By THE CANADIAN PRESS
WASHINGTON — As the so-called Cain Train comes off the rails amid allegations of sexual impropriety, one unlikely benefactor stands poised to profit: Newt Gingrich.
Herman Cain’s supporters, disillusioned by a spate of allegations against the one-time pizza executive, have migrated to the man who left his ailing first wife for his second, then — while trying to have Bill Clinton impeached for the Monica Lewinsky scandal — carried on an extramarital affair with a woman who became his third wife.
The sputtering Cain campaign has effectively made Gingrich the front-runner in the race as Mitt Romney continues to face distrust among primary voters about the former Massachusetts governor’s conservative bona fides.
That distrust, apparently, trumps any concerns they have about a collection of Gingrich personal baggage that is arguably every bit as heavy as Cain’s. Primary voters are flocking to the former speaker of the House of Representatives, after all, and not candidates like Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, both of whom have pristine domestic pasts in comparison and shared space with Gingrich in the basement of the public opinion polls until recently.
Gingrich has been asked in recent days if he thinks this week’s allegations that Cain had a 13-year extra-marital affair, on top of previous sexual harassment accusations, are relevant to his candidacy.
He responded gingerly.
“It is something that Mr. Cain will have to settle with the country and talk to the country about,” Gingrich said on CNN. “It is sad to see that level of pain brought out, but I think he’ll have to deal with it.”
At least one social conservative, however, wants answers, urging Gingrich on Wednesday to deal “directly and transparently” with his own history of infidelities and divorces.
“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,” Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote on the Christian Post website.
“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 . . . . 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.”
But Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said primary voters are likely willing to hold their noses and accept Gingrich’s checkered past since the events played out so many years ago.
“People certainly do remember that he’s been married three times and abandoned two wives — one to take up with a congressional staffer as he was trying to impeach Clinton,” Jillson said.
“To some extent they hold it against him, but it’s in the back of their minds; it’s in the past. But for Herman Cain, this is all new. This is a guy we knew nothing about; there was no track record. There was a lot of support for the image he was projecting but it was easily punctured by his blunders and his alleged transgressions, and those brought him down very quickly.”
Nonetheless the notion that Gingrich has been the one to benefit from Cain’s alleged chronic disloyalty to his wife of 43 years is striking many as hilariously ironic. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is among the late-night comics to note the irony.
“So voters leave Cain because they don’t like that he had an affair, and go to the guy who had two of them?” he marvelled.
“I guess Newt Gingrich becomes the candidate for people who like Herman Cain, but think he was too monogamous.”
Gingrich, for his part, is making every appearance of being a loving, loyal and devoted husband to his third wife, despite his original campaign team’s storied distaste for her.
They quit en masse last spring after Gingrich took her to the Greek islands amid allegations they resented her influence over him.
In the first e-book by the political website Politico, released Wednesday, the candidate waxed poetic about 45-year-old Callista Gingrich. In the book, titled The Right Fights Back, he credits her with helping to resurrect his campaign, likening her to Nancy Reagan, the wife of late president Ronald Reagan.
“Nancy was extraordinarily close to Ronnie and they discussed virtually everything,” he said.
So, too, do he and Callista.
“We privately discuss everything,” he said. “She sees all the (email) traffic that matters. She is increasingly comfortable going out and talking and giving speeches and visiting with people.”
Jillson said Gingrich’s uncharacteristic devotion to a spouse might be prompting primary voters to go easier on him where his past is concerned. But he also points out that the Republican party’s social conservatism is a relatively new phenomenon.
“The party used to stand for traditional mid-Western values, and it was a businessman’s party, and as businessmen move up the ladder, they generally view women as accoutrements just as many politicians do,” he said.
“But the commitment to social conservatism over the past couple of decades is obviously not very firmly entrenched since primary voters are willing to set it aside rather than throw their support behind Romney, by all accounts a guy with no personal baggage at all.”