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Crossing the Exes

William Shakespeare almost always gets the credit, but it was William Congreve who came up with the line that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” He put it more poetically, too, writing in “The Mourning Bride” that “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

We wanted to set the record straight on poor Congreve’s behalf because his classic observation is bound to be endlessly misquoted in the wake of Marianne Gingrich’s raging and furious remarks about her ex-husband, former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

In an interview aired Thursday night on ABC’s “Nightline,” the former Mrs. Gingrich recalled her ex-husband’s six-year affair with the woman he’s now married to, a fact that has long been publicly known and which Gingrich frankly admits, and claimed that he asked for a sort of “open marriage” that would allow him to continue the affair with her permission, a new twist on the story and one that Gingrich denies. In a separate interview with the Washington Post, she said that Gingrich asked for a divorce within days of giving a speech to the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pennsylvania, on “The Demise of American Culture.”

We sat down to watch the television interview, our first visit to “Nightline” since Ted Koppel was counting off the days of the Iranian embassy hostage crisis, and for what it’s worth we found Marianne Gingrich to be bitter, vindictive, and completely believable.

The truth of her allegations will matter little to Gingrich’s many bitter and vindictive critics on the left, who are always eager to pounce on any Republican who preaches family values in public but acts quite differently in private. Gingrich, who was engaged in affair while he called for impeachment charges against the left’s beloved Bill Clinton for lying about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is an especially tempting target and unlikely to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Alas, Gingrich’s defenders on the right don’t seem very concerned with the truth or falsehood of his ex-wife’s allegations, either. The talk radio hosts, who had been alerted to the story by a Drudge Report scoop on Wednesday, spent much of the afternoon railing against the double standards of a national media that ignored Democrat John Edward’s cheating on a cancer-stricken wife, recalling the left’s rationalizations for the serial indiscretions of Clinton, Ted Kennedy and numerous other liberal icons, and noting the left’s lack of outrage about the hypocrisy of wealthy and privileged liberals waging class warfare the self-made rich. All of this is true, of course, but none of it is a defense for what they would surely consider abhorrent behavior if it were committed by a Democrat.

The other argument popular among Gingrich’s defenders is that the scandal is old news, as if a person’s moral failings are somehow unimportant once they’re known to the public. The argument makes some sense if the behavior in question occurred long ago, has since been repented, and won’t be repeated, but we’re not convinced that is the case with Gingrich. While we don’t worry that the 68-year-old grandfather will wade into another dispiriting and distracting sex scandal while in office, á la Clinton, we do see the latest allegations as yet another example of a self-centeredness and arrogance that appear to remain very much a part of Gingrich’s character. Gingrich has lately been presenting himself as a true conservative while making leftist attacks on rival Mitt Romney for being a venture capitalist and paying his taxes at the legal rate, which is at least as inconsistent as speaking about moral values while carrying on an extra-marital affair.

Attacking the media messengers, who truly are as hypocritical and arrogant as Gingrich, seems to be working so far. Gingrich won yet another standing ovation in Thursday night’s debate with a fiery response to a question about the interview, and it might even put him on top in South Carolina’s crucial primary on Saturday. We expect the squeaky-clean and thoroughly conservative Rick Santorum will pick up a few votes from the crucial disgruntled ex-wife bloc, though, and that many more Republicans will ponder how the Gingrich scandals might play with a general electorate.

Gingrich fans will point out that the great Ronald Reagan won despite a divorce, but he only had one, it wasn’t because of his infidelity, and his ex-wife wasn’t out to make political life miserable for him. Marianne Gingrich is likely to be giving interviews from now to election day, and to misquote William Congreve, hell hath no fury like an angry ex-wife with a microphone.

— Bud Norman

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