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In a fluid race for the Republican presidential nomination, it's amazing how fast the conversation shifts. Seems like we were just discussing Michele Bachmann's surprising win in Iowa, or the Perry path to the nomination. Now, Newt Gingrich is positioning to capture the nomination. But just like Bachmann, just like Perry, just like Cain, there are a number of things that will be obstacles for Gingrich to overcome.
It's a well-documented fact that Newt has, "baggage." Anyone who has been involved in politics as long as Newt has is going to have some, but Newt has...well, a lot. I don't know how much the tag of "Washington Insider" is going to hurt him, as no one questions Newt's ability to shake up the status quo (something he has done throughout his political career). If the issue is "change" in the Washington culture, Newt will beat Obama.
Perhaps Newt's biggest problem in capturing the nomination may well be his sordid past of three marriages and well documented (and admitted) cases of infidelity. It's not going to be easy for traditional conservative Christians to think about supporting a man with a checkered past regarding his marital morality. And it's not an easy sell to the general population when the Party that stands for family values boasts such a man while the Party that wars against those values boasts a man in Obama, who - say what you will about him - seems to be a devoted husband and father.
Every man makes mistakes, and forgiveness can be sought and received, but scars remain. Family scars are his own business, but trust scars are the business of his potential supporters. In other words, Newt may be the strongest candidate in the field when it comes to making the changes necessary in Washington, but his past moral failings have done immense damage to his credibility and the trust traditional morality voters can place in him.
Can he overcome them? That's a great question. One very influential evangelical minister, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks it's possible, but only if Newt addresses it directly. He writes,
"Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of evangelical women," Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an open letter to the former House speaker. "You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote."
In a March interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. Gingrich touched on his marriage problems, saying he had sought "God's forgiveness" for his actions.
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate," Mr. Gingrich said.
"What I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them," he said. "I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness ? not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness."
Mr. Land, though, suggested in his letter Wednesday that Mr. Gingrich still has his work cut off for him, while advising him to give a speech on his martial history in a "pro-family venue."
"You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and suffering they caused others including your former spouses," Mr. Land wrote. "Make it as clear as you can that you have apologized for the hurt your actions caused and that you have learned from your past misdeeds. Express your love for, and loyalty to, your wife and your commitment to your marriage. Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House."
Let's stipulate one thing immediately. Certainly when a man says he has sought the forgiveness of God, the spiritual side to his condition is something no other man can rightly judge. The best human gauge of the seriousness to such a claim is the fruit that is born from that point onward - how does he love his wife, his children, how does he live from that moment forward.
But that issue is entirely separate from the question of his leadership abilities and the degree to which he can be trusted by the public. Those things, it is entirely appropriate - and necessary - for men to judge. Along those lines, I think Richard Land's suggestion is a good one for Newt to consider. Barack had his "race speech." Mitt had his "faith speech." Newt may need his "redemption speech."
Would it be enough? Time will tell, but I tend to think that demonstrating his sincerity, his humility, and his renewed devotion to the moral ethics he so brazenly violated previously would be a good first step.