He’s climbing in the polls and growing in popularity among evangelicals, which is catching a few observers by surprise:
Like many evangelicals in Iowa, Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host, is wrestling with the possibility that Newt Gingrich may be the most viable standard bearer for family-values voters in the next election. It’s a conundrum, he says, that many others are also grappling with. “Maybe the guy in the race that would make the best president is on his third marriage,” he says. “How do we reconcile that?”
One senses him trying. “I see a lot of parallels between King David and Newt Gingrich, two extraordinary men gifted by God, whose lives include very high highs and very low lows,” Deace says. David, after all, committed adultery with the ravishing Bathsheba, then had her husband killed, among other transgressions. The Bible makes room for complicated, morally compromised heroes. Now Christian conservatives, desperate for an alternative to Mitt Romney, are learning to do so as well.“Under normal circumstances, Gingrich would have some real problems with the social-conservative community,” says Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. “But these aren’t normal circumstances.”…
…On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when most of the GOP candidates gathered in the First Federated Church in Des Moines for a FAMiLY Leader forum, the consensus was that Gingrich came out on top. Partly that’s because he’s been preparing his theocentric message for a while, particularly since converting to Catholicism, Callista’s religion, in 2009, which he has said strengthened his appreciation for the role of faith in public life. In recent years, his writing and speaking have become increasingly religious and even apocalyptic, limning a great world-historical show-down between the forces of Christian civilization and those of what he calls “secular-socialism,” which weakens society, allowing for the spread of radical Islam.
“A country which has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have, because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare,” he said at the FAMiLY Leader debate. Most of his audience surely knew that 1963 is the year the Supreme Court banned prayer in school.
After the debate, moderator Frank Luntz held a focus group with 25 conservative Iowa mothers. Vander Plaats was shocked at their enthusiasm for Gingrich. “Though they don’t embrace or endorse or condone his personal past, they might be more willing to get over that if he’s the best one to lead to preserve the America they want for their children,” he says.
Two days later, the FAMiLY Leader came up with a list of four finalists for its coveted endorsement: Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Gingrich. The fact that he made the cut was striking, given that the FAMiLY Leader is asking all candidates to sign a pledge titled “The Marriage Vow,” which says, “We acknowledge and regret the widespread hypocrisy of many who defend marriage yet turn a blind eye toward the epidemic of infidelity and the anemic condition of marriages in their own community.”Gingrich benefits, of course, from the powerful Christian narrative of sin and deliverance. “These voters believe in forgiveness, they believe in redemption,” says Ralph Reed, who leads the Faith and Freedom Coalition. After all, as he points out, it was evangelicals who helped elect Ronald Reagan, our first and only divorced president.
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