Newt Gingrich certainly has name recognition going into the 2012 presidential race. But the question is whether his name will hurt or help his run for president.
On Wednesday, Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, announced that he is officially seeking the Republican presidential nomination. News reporters and opinion columnists quickly churned out analyses on his multiple marriages, infidelity, fiery tongue, and even his seemingly small contributions to charities and how they would affect his bid for the White House.
Interestingly, despite his glaring moral failings, Gingrich has tried to reshape his public image as a repentant Christian married to a devout Catholic.
In late March, Gingrich spoke at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and railed against secularism while calling for the defense of the nation’s Christian values. He cited the prayers of past presidents and slammed a California federal court for declaring the reference “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional.
The history professor-turned-politician, who converted to Catholicism two years ago, also spoke during the “Rediscover God in America” webcast, which also featured potential GOP presidential contenders Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann.
But Gingrich, with all his baggage, has an uphill battle to climb to win the faith of social conservatives and Christian voters.
“I have been watching with humor Newt Gingrich’s attempt to wrap his adultery in the Vatican flag in these past months,” wrote Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, on Wednesday.
Cones pointed out that Gingrich’s third wife, Callista, was a House staffer that he was having an affair with while he was trying to impeach former President Bill Clinton for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky.
“Of course, we Catholics preach forgiveness and second chances … but it still seems unseemly to me to make a big play at the Catholic vote by leading with your own hypocrisy under the banner of the late pope,” wrote Cones.
Similarly, Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, noted that Gingrich has “a U-Haul full of baggage” but he is trying to woo religious conservative voters. Kurtz, however, also gave credit to Gingrich for striking deals with President Clinton when he was Speaker of the House, helping to balance the budget, and passing welfare reform.
“He is a policy wonk who knows the issues inside out, and a historian who can give any subject a grand rhetorical sweep,” acknowledged Kurtz.
Gingrich’s liabilities are affecting his standing in polls. A CBS News/New York Times poll in April that asked respondents whom they felt enthusiastic about found Gingrich (5 percent) lagging behind Mitt Romney (9 percent), Mike Huckabee (8 percent), and Donald Trump (7 percent).
But, as many political pundits have noted, the GOP presidential candidate field is wide open. The poll found that 56 percent of respondents said they were not enthusiastic about any of the candidates.