CHARLESTON, S.C. – Newt Gingrich wasted no time in taking on CNN's John King and the media in general as he openly responded to the allegations surrounding his second wife's disclosure of his request for an open marriage.
Gingrich said the story being aired Thursday night by ABC was "false."
"I think the destructive, vicious negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country," an angry Gingrich remarked on Thursday at the Republican presidential debate after King asked if he wanted to respond to his ex-wife's allegations. "I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."
"My two daughters wrote to the head of ABC and made the point that it (the story from his former wife) was wrong, that they should pull it and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate. I am tired of the liberal media protecting Barack Obama."
ABC News aired an exclusive interview with Gingrich's ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, late Thursday night. In the interview, she claimed the former House speaker admitted to a six-year affair with Callista – a Congressional aide at the time and now his wife – and then asked Marianne if they could have an open marriage.
She refused and the two divorced later, she said. She also told ABC that Newt Gingrich never apologized to her.
Thursday was undoubtedly one of the more eventful days of the GOP presidential campaign season.
The day began with Texas Gov. Rick Perry announcing his withdrawal from the race, saying there was "no probable way" he could win the nomination. Moments later he threw his support behind Gingrich.
Also, Mitt Romney's eight-vote victory in the Iowa caucuses was erased with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum unofficially declared the winner by a 30-plus vote margin.
But Gingrich had to weigh Gov. Perry's endorsement with the languishing story of his former wife's revelations. Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers, the former Speaker's daughters from his first marriage, quickly came to the defense of their father.
The former Speaker's personal life wasn't the only issue that drew a response from the audience in the North Charleston Coliseum.
Some in the audience booed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney when he refused to offer his tax returns until April of this year, instead indicating he would "probably" release multiple years' taxes. "Maybe," said a nervous Romney.
Interestingly, Romney's father released 12 years of returns when he ran for president in 1968.
"I don't know how many years I will release. I'll … I'll take a look at the documents we have," Romney said.
Gingrich released his 2010 taxes returns moments prior to the Thursday debate and paid over $900,000 in taxes. Texas Rep. Ron Paul said he had no intentions of releasing his tax returns, saying he would be "embarrassed" at disclosing his income when compared to the three others on the stage. Santorum said he did his own taxes and his returns were on his personal computer at home and he couldn't get to them until he took a break from the campaign trail.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum held his own in the final debate before the South's first primary by staking his position as a defender of social values and taking a swipe at Gingrich in the process. But what irritated Santorum the most was Gingrich's suggestion that he withdraw from the race.
"Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt," Santorum remarked. "A month ago, he was saying, 'oh, I'm inevitable.'"
"I was two and 0 going into South Carolina, and I should get out of the race?" a stunned Santorum asked. "These are not cogent thoughts. Let's just be honest. I'm steady. I'm solid. I'm not gonna go out and do things that you're gonna worry about. I'm gonna make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign."
Gingrich smiled during Santorum's comments and quickly grabbed the "grandiose" label as a badge of honor. "This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things."
In the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in South Carolina, Gingrich has eclipsed Romney by two points, taking a 33 to 31 percent lead. Paul is third with 15 percent and Santorum has 11 percent. Another PPP poll, known to lean Democratic, had Gingrich with a 6-point lead.