The good thing, perhaps the only good thing, about Newt Gingrich's victory in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary Saturday is that it is bound to bring more skeptical scrutiny to the candidate's remarkable range of hypocrisy.
Now that he's won a primary -- the largest so far, and one so studded with conservative wrath and evangelical disillusion -- it's time for voters to pin him down about his irreconcilable conflicts. He needs to be held accountable for the yawning gaps between his pulpit moralizing and his private philandering, his rich insider's perch among the Washington lobbyists and elites whom he suddenly finds so odious, his illusory righteousness and his blatant racism.
If South Carolina is a reliable measure, Republican primary voters themselves are not likely to demand a fair accounting of Gingrich's legendary discrepancies. Efforts by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- or the super PACS that favor each of Gingrich's competitors -- are unlikely to be considered impartial critics, moreover. That leaves accountability up to reporting by the media and a fair-minded public.
There's plenty to consider, starting with Gingrich's unenviable record of three marriages and various affairs. He left his first wife, Jackie -- who had put him through college and graduate school, had borne his children and had helped him get elected to Congress -- after 18 years of marriage, while she was in a hospital struggling with cancer. A year later, he married the paramour he had been seeing, Marianne Ginther, when he divorced. She was his political adviser and co-author until the early 1990s.
By her account last week, Gingrich divorced her after she rejected his request for an "open marriage" so he could continue to see his new paramour, Callista, with whom he had had an affair for six years. That was the period in which he led the Republican charge for impeachment against President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair. Gingrich divorced Marianne for Callista soon after Marianne received a diagnosis of muscular sclerosis.
Against this background, Gingrich recently opposed gay marriage on the grounds that it violates "the sanctity of marriage," as if that was something that truly concerned him.
His philandering past is not a rarity in politics, of course, but it certainly begs the question of his sincerity and moral authority about fidelity, as well as his personal credibility. Gingrich, to be sure, seems to relish jolting conflicts. After preaching in favor of free enterprise and capitalism, he's lately sounded like a bona fide socialist in excoriating Romney's past as a venture capitalist.
To win the tea party vote, Gingrich has also begun describing himself as an outsider to Washington's establishment, never mind that he ended his congressional career as Speaker of the House. He lost that post and left Congress only after his fellow Republicans reprimanded him for ethics violations.
He continued to do well in Washington, however. He was a lobbyist for the giant federal mortgage underwriter, Freddie Mac, which paid him $1.7 million over eight years. He also became a special national adviser to companies in the health care industry, which he milked for $37 million.
If enriching himself as a philandering politician-turned-lobbyist doesn't knock down the self-aggrandizing monument he's built for himself, his racist taunts should do the trick. He's been warming up revanchist conservatives and invoking racial prejudices by attacking President Obama as the "food-stamp king," reviling people on food-stamps for their dependency, and preaching the need to teach poor black children to be part-time school janitors so they can learn a trade and a work ethic.
The nation's food-stamp use has risen to record levels, but only because of the deep aftershocks of joblessness from a Great Recession rooted in the last Bush administration's negligent fiscal policies. To demonize Obama and the nation's safety net as a racial problem is to malignantly spread pure political poison.
Voters in Florida's GOP primary a week from today would serve well to reject Gingrich's misguided distortions and blatant hypocrisy. South Carolinians missed the call, but there's still time for more informed voters to defuse the Gingrich surge.