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TIME

Posted by Amy Sullivan Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What was Newt Gingrich doing at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church on Sunday? Besides delivering another speech from his book of Demagogue Mad Libs, that is. The most obvious answer is that Gingrich is courting evangelical voters. But ever since the LA Times wrote about Gingrich’s outreach to evangelicals earlier this month, I’ve been skeptical about whether that’s actually the case.

Sure, in the past few years, Gingrich has met with groups of pastors in key electoral states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida. He helped support an effort in Iowa that year that ousted three state supreme court justices who were involved in a 2009 ruling that sanctioned gay marriage. And he’s gone on Christian media outlets like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show and the Christian Broadcasting Network to reintroduce himself to social conservatives.

These are the actions of a man who is either engaged in a futile quest to win over evangelical GOP primary voters or looking to build a distribution network or his growing enterprise of books and movies on religious themes.

Why futile? First of all, if Gingrich is looking to earn the endorsements of influential evangelical leaders, Hagee isn’t near the top tier of people he needs to court. But more than that, Hagee is considered toxic by many evangelicals for his controversial comments about the Holocaust and description of the Catholic Church as “the great whore.” John McCain learned this the hard way in 2008 when his campaign initially welcomed an endorsement from Hagee, only to reject it days later when Hagee’s more hateful remarks attracted media attention.

Then there’s the matter of Gingrich’s divorces. Plural. Not to mention the affairs that led to each of his divorces. While evangelicals have long ignored divorce as a social concern in favor of focusing on issues like abortion and gay marriage, it still carries a significant taboo. And having an affair can get a person booted from a congregation. During the 2000 primaries, Dobson issued a personal press release highlighting McCain’s history of infidelity: “The senator is being touted by the media as a man of principle, yet he was involved with other women while married to his first wife.”

A personal history that includes multiple affairs and divorces doesn’t have to spell electoral doom for a GOP candidate if he presents it as part of a narrative of sin, repentance, and redemption. Along these lines, George W. Bush spent much of the 2000 campaign talking about his alcoholic past and referring to himself as a “sinner” as a way of communicating his new spiritual sobriety. He once was blind, but now he sees.

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Hat tip to Youtube user DBRielly

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