Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rocky's Revenge, Sort Of

Somehow or another, the case against Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate has devolved, apparently, into a discussion of his marital history. My brother, the excellent journalist David S. Bernstein, nails this one, so I'll just send you there. I've called Newt, as a candidate, Sarah Palin without the strong supporters but with a marital history worse than John Edwards, so I suppose I'm guilty of it too -- but the real point is that Sarah Palin, with the strong supporters and without personal negatives of that kind is still not a much of a nomination candidate. In other words, I don't think a Caesar's wife version of Newt goes anywhere. Or, as Alex Massie puts it, he's "a buffoon, wrapped in a charlatan, inside a cad...whose chief aim in life is to persuade gullible journalists he's a figure of substance."

But on to more fun stuff and real candidates. You know what's odd about the GOP field for 2012? As far as I can tell, no one has been married twice. Exactly twice, I mean; Newt, and Buddy Roemer, are over quota for that one (at least I think that's right -- wikipedia has Roemer on wife #2, but numerous recent articles have him on #3). Also: Buddy Roemer! Heh.

All of which spoiled my plans for writing a mock-serious post about how candidate X was certain to win because all GOP nominees for the last thirty years have either been Bushes or divorced and remarried. Once. (That's Reagan, Dole, and McCain). I was all ready to go, with all sorts of bogus reasons for why it was a de facto qualification (yes, the word gravitas would have been used. Also, something about energy in the executive. And capacity for ruthlessness. And an almost fanatical devotion to the...oh, that's something else). I still could have gone for a more obvious one about how Mitt Romney is probably willing to divorce and remarry if that's what it would take to win it, but then I'd get Brendan Nyahn on my case, so I'll leave it to someone else.

Anyway, some data. The six leading contenders for the 2008 nomination (McCain, Romney, Huck, Paul, Fred Thompson, Giuliani) had been married a total of ten times, per wikipedia. In 2000, only McCain had been married more than once. In 1996, Dole was the only one (I'm not checking all of the marginal contenders, and again I have no idea how complete wikipedia might be).

Might as well run the comparison...John Kerry is the only Democratic nominee to be divorced and remarried. In 2008, Chris Dodd had done so, and Dennis Kucinick, for whatever it's worth, was on wife #3. In 2004 you have Kerry, Kucinich, and Joe Lieberman. None of the major contenders in 2000 or 1992 had been divorced at that point, so apart from Kerry no one in this category has come close, at least as far as I can remember.

So it's not as if overwhelming numbers of GOP presidential candidates have been divorced and remarried, compared to the Democrats. And it's probably just dumb luck that three of the last five Republican nominations have gone to twice-married candidates. I'll also mention that unless I'm forgetting something none of the GOP VP nominees have been divorced, while the Democrats have had one, Joe Lieberman. Still, it's worth noting, no?


  1. "Dennis Kucinick, for whatever it's worth, was on wife #3"

    Dude. Have you SEEN the third Mrs. Kucinich? God exists, and She has a sense of humor.

  2. First, the Romney joke would have been "he'd be willing to get remarried....without a divorce."

    And the grad students were talking about fear as a motivator, and "an almost fanatical devotion to the pope" went RIGHT over their heads. Grad students. *sigh*

    Your mock serious post would have to have something about how much Republicans love marriage....they have to do it multiple times!

    Of course, were Gingrich to be the nominee, it'd make two in a row for the GOP...two guys whose current wives were also their mistresses from the last marriage.

  3. Oh, to address your brother's point without registering at The Phoenix's website:

    Yes, it's the last thing we all remember Newt doing. But, it also helps that its only 11 years old, whereas McCain's was 28 years old. And, Newt was the recently deposed, larger-than-life Speaker who had tried to impeach a president for an affair; McCain was just some no-account senator at the time so there really wasn't a memory of it. So, I think there are a number of reasons it's likely to come up.

  4. It gets sillier today....

    Gingrich had an affair because it was the patriotic thing to do.

  5. Matt made part of my point: Two very salient distinctions between Senator McCain's and Speaker Gingrich's dubious marital histories are recency and recidivism.

    McCain, by his own admission, acted very shabbily in the last years of his first marriage. However, that behavior, by 2000, let alone 2008, was two decades old, and since then he has (to the degree one can know this for certain -- see Edwards, John) been a loving and faithful husband. His misbehavior also preceded his entry into electoral politics, and certainly his emergence as a major national figure.

    Gingrich is now confessing himself to shabby behavior towards his former spouses. Confession is good for the soul, and I am willing to accept the sincerity of his remorse here, but the media may see it differently because (a) his more recent divorce was only one decade or so ago, with the estrangement apparently beginning while he was a sitting House Speaker, and (b) he's endured very messy divorces twice, implying some lack of personal growth after early middle age, when McCain's and Gingrich's first marriages both crumbled.

    A much older reference that Jon B. made in his headline could be made to Ronald Reagan vs. Nelson Rockefeller. They were both divorced men, but Reagan's divorce happened about 20 years before he ran for governor of California, was by most accounts initiated by his wife (not due to infidelity, just growing apart or some such), and when Reagan remarried after a suitable interval (about four years after the divorce from his first wife was final), it was to a woman relatively close to him in age (he was about 40, she was about 30).

    Rockefeller divorced his first wife as the sitting governor of New York in 1962; they had recently lost their youngest son, presumed dead in New Guinea in November 1961, which can certainly strain a marriage, but there were also widespread insinuations that Nelson Rockefeller was unfaithful. He remarried after about a year (Wikipedia doesn't have a precise date of the divorce, but it was sometime in 1962, and the second marriage was in June 1963). Much was made of the fact that the new bride was herself a divorcee with four children. She was about 20 years younger than Rocky, and they had a child very quickly after the union, in the midst of the 1964 campaign for the GOP nomination. It has been speculated that Rocky's tumultuous personal life may have cost him the 1964 GOP nomination.

    Finally, the awkward last act of Rocky's life was when he suffered a fatal heart attack while -- details are sketchy -- but apparently enjoying the private company of a 23 year old female aide. If Rockefeller had survived, his private life would have been much more of an issue in a hypothetical 1980 presidential campaign than Reagan's.

  6. I love that it's 2011 and we're still speculating about Nelson Rockefeller's potential presidential campaigns.


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