With the ascendence of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to the top of many polls, it is no surprise that the question of marital infidelity would come up, if anything not sooner, during Saturday's GOP presidential candidate debate in Iowa hosted by ABC/Yahoo! News. Throughout the campaign Gingrich has been open and self-deprecating about his well documented infidelity and multiple marriages that many have speculated come in conflict with the opinions of social conservatives that make up a large base of the Republican Party.
In a question posed by the Des Moines Register, candidates addressed whether or not voters should consider marital fidelity when making their choices for president.
Texas Governor Rick Perry responded to the question first, likening that he would not trust someone to be honest in business if they are not honest in marriage; “I've always been of the opinion if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner.”
“Not only did I make a vow to my wife, I made a vow to God,” he said. “And that's pretty heavy lifting in my book. When I make a vow to God, then I would suggest to you that's even stronger than a handshake in Texas.”
“I think character issues do count,” said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has consistently sought out to define himself as the leading social conservative among the candidates. “All of your record – personal as well as political is there for the public to look at…but certainly it’s a factor and it should be a factor. You’re electing a leader, you’re electing someone that trust is everything, and particularly in this election.”
That said, Santorum pointed out “I would not say it’s a disqualifier.”
Rep. Ron Paul said that he obviously thinks character is important, but doesn't believe it is something that the candidates should need to talk about, but "should show through in the way we live."
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann turned the question on its side, arguing for character and addressing what voters should ponder when thinking about candidate. "Who are you really? What is your center? What's your core? What's drives you? " Bachmann said.
The Hill notes that while Mitt Romney passed on taking a direct swipe at Gingrich in this line of his questioning, his campaign released an ad touting his long relationship with his wife earlier this week , which many interpreted as a veiled swipe at the former House speaker.
When the question finally made its way to Gingrich, who it was clearly intended for, he delivered a calculated and clearly developed response. Gingrich said he thinks it is a “real issue,” and that people have to render judgment on how marital fidelity matters. "People have to look at the person to whom they are going to loan the presidency," Gingrich said. "They have to have a feeling that is a person they can trust."
"I've made mistakes at times and I've had to go to God for forgiveness, I’ve had to seek reconciliation,” he said. “But I’m also a 68 year old grandfather, and people have to measure now whether I’m a person that they can trust.”