Mr. Speaker, well done! You have risen beyond relevancy to serious competitiveness by your grit, erudition and intelligence. You have come back from the political equivalent of hospice care to become a serious contender for the Republican nomination for president.
You’re obviously extremely bright, knowledgeable, experienced on the issues and fully able to go toe-to-toe with the formidable campaigner President Obama has amply demonstrated that he is.
By the way, your idea of a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates between you and the president if you are the nominee is a great idea. Those debates would do much to clarify and explain the critically important decisions that Americans will be making about their and their children’s future in the 2012 election.
However (and you have known me long enough to know that the “however” was coming), you still have some significant problems with Evangelical voters. These voters are, and will be, an important factor in both the primaries and general election.
Over the past three years, I have conducted more than 200 informal focus groups with Southern Baptists across the land, in rural, urban, suburban and exurban settings. Mr. Speaker, I have good news and I have bad news.
The good news is, as you know Evangelicals are a forgiving people, who having experienced redemption and forgiveness in their own spiritual lives, and are most often willing to extend it to others who ask for it. Consequently, a high percentage of Evangelical men are willing to cut you some slack over your turbulent marital history. The bad news is that Evangelical women are far less willing to forgive and let bygones be bygones. There is a large and significant gender gap on the issue of your two previous marriages. My research would indicate a majority of men, but less than a third of Evangelical women, are currently willing to trust you as their president.
Even my own mother, a rock-solid Evangelical, was extremely uncomfortable voting for Sen. John McCain until he acknowledged to Rick Warren that the failure of his first marriage was the greatest regret of his life and it was his fault.
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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I urge you to pick a pro-family venue and give a speech (not an interview) addressing your marital history once and for all. It should be clear that this speech will be “it” and will not be repeated, only referenced.
As you prepare that speech, you should picture in your mind a 40-something Evangelical married woman whose 40-something sister just had her heart broken by an Evangelical husband who has just filed for divorce, having previously promised in church, before God, his wife and “these assembled witnesses” to “love, honor and cherish until death us do part.”
Focus on her as if she were your only audience. You understand people vote for president differently than they do any other office. It is often more of a courtship than a job interview. I know something of your faith journey over the past 20 years. Do not hesitate to weave that into your speech to the degree that you are comfortable doing so. It will always resonate with Evangelical Christians.
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. 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.
Such a speech would not convince everyone to vote for you, but it might surprise you how many Evangelicals, immersed in a spiritual tradition of confession, redemption, forgiveness and second and third chances, might.
Your fellow American,