In 1978, in the G.O.P.'s first election victory in rural Georgia this century, Newton Leroy Gingrich was elected to Congress. Party pros, dubbed "the $1,000 suits" by the Georgia good old boys, hit town to offer tips to the new star. But without them, Newt had already impressed no less than Eddie Mahe, then deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. Mahe well remembers the summer afternoon in the mid-70s when he first met the young politician. Hot sun was pouring through his office window; Newt was dressed in sky-blue polyester pants and a madras jacket. "How did this dork get in here?" Mahe thought. Then the visitor began to speak: the unknown renegade sweating it out in polyester impressed the seasoned campaign strategist with a shrewd, concise ("Three points --boom, boom, boom") assessment of his Democratic foe in Georgia. Mahe saw a very live wire --and began to spread the word.
The 1978 victory closed a remarkably ugly campaign which foreshadowed the next chapter in the annals of Newt, who had now begun his metamorphosis into the Che Guevara of conservatism. During a recent interview with David Frost, Gingrich was asked about a leaflet-part of his '78 "Let Our Family Represent Your Family" campaign --which said that if Newt's Democratic opponent, Virginia Shapard, were elected she would have to break up her family to move to D.C. and hire a nanny to assume her maternal responsibilities. Newt maintained that the leaflet was sent out without his knowledge by an operative he later forced to resign --Kip Carter. "It was a mistake to have used it, and I would have told him at the time, frankly," Newt maintained. Carter says that the candidate himself not only approved the leaflet but was also involved in television advertising where a Shapard stand-in was shown "wearing an iron bracelet that looked like she belonged to the SS."
The family-values campaign might have seemed a bit risky to some candidates who had done a bit of philandering. But Newt, it appears, does not see himself as vulnerable to the trip wires that ensnare others. His blind spot may be his own personal invulnerability, his faith in his ability to always manipulate opinion. By the time the Gingriches moved to Washington, however, at least one old loyalist, his wife, was no longer swayed by Newt's bluster. When a friend paid a visit, she found Jackie and Newt quarreling about his refusal to dump the trash. It was the classic argument of the woman's saying, "When you go to the Hill, you are the god that everyone waits on. But when you come home...It's still your job to be part of the family!"
Jackie had reason to make demands. "I'm sure Jackie's income as a teacher was very essential between 1970 and 1979," says Richard Dangle, Newt's dean at West Georgia. "Most of their income went into Newt's political campaigns." According to Dangle, Newt's assistant professor's salary of $11,000 was cut by a third each time he took a leave to run for Congress.
During 1979 and 1980, Newt Gingrich --despite his political success-- entered a period of crisis. He almost, to borrow a phrase, "wiped out." "He went through a real down period, ducked his head, retreated from the battlefield," says Eddie Mahe. According to other sources, Newt was drinking heavily. "There were people concerned about his stability," says Kip Carter.
"It was a very, very bad period of my life," Newt has admitted. "It had been getting steadily worse. I ultimately wound up at a point where suicide, or going insane, or divorce were the last three options." In April 1980, he told Jackie, who was suffering from uterine cancer, that he was filing for divorce.
He was soon having an affair with a woman known to a member of his staff as "the mystery lady." Fifteen years younger than Newt's wife, she had "big cow eyes," says one former congressman. It was the future Marianne Gingrich, whom Newt had met at a Republican fund-raiser in Ohio in January of 1980.
Newt tried to explain what he was going through to his mother. She remember his words: "He said, 'I'm going to deal with Jackie.' I asked, 'But why?' He had no idea. He said, 'I'm either going to get a divorce or I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. I can't take it.'" Kit adds, "I've often wondered if she had taken that weight off maybe they would still be together."
One of the "$1,000 suits" from Washington suggests that Newt's attitude might be "a delayed adolescent rebellion." But another observer cites a different factor, "He thought that she was not transferable to sophisticated Washington, which he considered himself --Mr. Backwater-- to be able to manage."
Dot Crews learned about the divorce from Newt himself. "I was driving him one day, and...I asked if there was another woman, knowing full well that there was one." He denied it. But Crews realized, "You don't ask questions you know they're going to have to lie about."
For some time, Jackie tried to hold on. "He can say that we had been talking about it for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise," she told Lois Romano of The Washington Post. "He walked out in the spring of 1980...By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said, 'Daddy is downstairs. Could he come up?' When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from my surgery."
Jackie's divorce lawyer, Edward Bates, expected that Newt would want to have the divorce handled quietly and diplomatically. But it started off very badly. "We went to court to get the basic financial necessities met." The utilities were about to be cut off --it was dire. Jackie's testimony at a hearing to determine alimony --revealing Newt's $34,000 personal debt, his spending habits, his refusal to pay forwarded bills-- appeared in detail on the front page of the hometown newspaper, the Carroll County Georgian, on October 23, 1980. It was two weeks before Newt's bid for re-election to Congress.
"Holy shit, how are we going to survive this?" was the first reaction of Frank Gregorsky, then a staffer for the National Republican Congressional Committee who worked in the Gingrich camp. But as it turned out, Newt carried the country and added to his majority in the rest of the district. Gregorsky developed a theory: "There must have been some quiet, angry, white males out there...who felt trashed by women. He now had a badge of honor."
The slim, dark-haired stranger who began to appear around the Gingrich congressional office about the time of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981 did not impress all the members of the Gingrich team.
"Well, I don't want to be unkind to her, but Marianne didn't know how to dress," says Dolores Adamson. "She was smart enough, I think, but she was somehow a little naive...In staff meetings, she'd go away in tears, because she didn't really understand. She would just be totally frustrated and confused."
Marianne Ginther's perspective was formed by the small-town culture of Leetonia, Ohio, a speck of a village so tiny that it has only one traffic light. Harry Ginther, Marianne's father, an insurance manager, was at one time the town mayor.
Although she rather proudly characterizes herself as strong-willed, Marianne admits, "I was not like what you'd call the best student. I was not a bookworm...I was a tomboy. I could outrun all the boys on the block." She enrolled in an architecture program at Kent State, but fell away after her second year, which followed the tragic shootings of Kent students in the spring of 1970.
Marianne made her way in the world with a little help. She eventually became a community planner for the Trumbull County Planning Commission. "I watched her and I thought, Here's a lady who can function in a man's world," says Lyle Williams, then the Republican congressman from her district. Despite the fact that Marianne had no professional degree, Williams maintains that she became a very effective community planner. "She could get along with men," he repeats several times. Williams was part of a board that replaced the longtime director of the planning commission, Ed Kutevac, with Marianne. ("Within 24 hours," she recalls, "I was it!") Kutevac, however, fought back and ultimately regained his job. Williams allows, "Politically, it kind of put Marianne on the spot."
"I didn't think I was going to rise quickly or do anything fancy," she says, "but if you show up and you're the one who's working, you just end up to be the person getting promoted."
Shortly before meeting Newt Gingrich, the 28-year-old Marianne ended her affair with Marlin "Whitey" Ford, the head of a United Auto Workers local. His relationship with the younger woman had been strained, Ford told Kim Masters of The Washington Post, because he had been married at the time --and the father of three. I asked Marianne if her relationship with Ford was an important one. "I don't want to explain it," she says. "I think it's irrelevant to bring it up."
"Very quickly after the breakup of Marianne and Whitey, she and Newt went on a camping trip," says an old Leetonia friend. "She said Newt's divorce wasn't final yet." Marianne doubted that her romance with the congressman would be more than a fling, says Betty Sekula, an Ohio planning official who worked with Marianne. Lyle Williams was also surprised when the couple stayed in touch. "I didn't think it was spectacular fireworks," says Williams. Others, however, have noted the contrast between Jackie, the maternal sparring partner, and the adoring acolyte he acquired in the younger woman. His sister Candace explains: "Jackie was his equal. With Marianne, initially, he was the authority, the high power."
The second-term congressman married the country girl in Leetonia, Ohio, in August 1981 (six months after his divorce). A family friend who knew both wives observes, "He became the 'only child' in a world where she worshipped him." In the first few years of their marriage Marianne turned herself inside out to please her man, who had admitted to "the habit of dominance." She went back to school and earned an undergraduate degree in business administration from Georgia State University. She tried wearing bows in her hair and did beauty makeovers and became an image consultant for BeautiControl Cosmetics. Knowing her husband's devotion to reptiles, she gave him an emerald-tree boa for his birthday. They kept the snake in the bathtub. She worked hard to make Newt happy. But there were problems.
"Newt was indifferent to Marianne right from the beginning," says a sympathetic Betty Sekula. "It was him, not us."
I ask Marianne if their marriage was a one-sided equation from the beginning. "That's true...I was necessarily happy being married to someone like Newt," she admits. Later on, she says, "I made it very clear I wasn't happy with certain behaviors." She gave him a copy of the book Men Who Hate Women & The Women Who Love Them, by Susan Forward and Joan Torres. The book describes men who are socialized to dominate and control. One variation is the "Henry Higgins" type of man, who is "often charming and even loving," but who switches to "cruel, critical, insulting behavior on a moment's notice...They gain control by grinding the woman down. They refuse to take responsibility for how the attacks make their partners feel."
"Oh, boy, does that sound like Newt!" exclaims a family friend. Another family observer agrees with this assessment and says, "She may not be Eliza Doolittle, but he sure as hell is Henry Higgins. I feel sorry for Marianne."
"When their relationship is good and strong, he's at his very best," says former congressman Vin Weber. "If there's any tension in the marriage, it just drives him to distraction." In 1982, Newt fairly exploded in frustration when his chief of staff, Frank Gregorsky, objected to having the Gingrich campaign pay to have Marianne fly around the country with him. Gregorsky argued that it was the wrong thing to do politically. But the congressman wouldn't bend. Gregorsky describes him banging his arms against a door and wailing, "Why don't you all understand? Why don't you understand what I need?" He won the argument, of course. Gregorsky says, "If you ever fight with Newt on one of those things, he will either go ballistic or he will break down. It is dangerous."
By the mid-80s the marriage had been perforated with separations. One issue may have been the fact that Marianne was expected, as Jackie had been, to contribute her times and earnings to Newt's political advancement. "I felt that Marianne had a mission," says Betty Sekula. When Marianne turned up in Leetonia in 1988 and tried to outfox Sekula in a situation involving a federal grant for a former employee, Sekula challenged her. "You forget that if anything happens in this town, I know about it by early afternoon." Marianne, she says, grew very uncomfortable and pleaded, "I had to do it." Sekula gathered that "it was her marriage, it was money, I think she was desperate."
At one point, Newt publicly described the chances of his second marriage succeeding as 53-47. He confides during our interview that he really had not learned to express emotion until he married Marianne --when he was nearly 40.
"It's been one of the most painful things I've ever been through in my whole life," Newt tells me, "trying to understand the degree to which behaviors that I thought were totally appropriate were destructive." He pauses, looking glum.
"You mean you drove people away that you loved?"
"Sure. I had stupid, unthinking assumptions."
"About women, among other things."
Today, Newt asserts unconvincingly that the presidency is not "one of the three highest items" on the checklist for the rest of his life. "But," he says, "hanging around with Marianne is pretty high on the list...I really do want to experience a lot of marriage."
When I ask what else is on the list, Newt rolls out a wish list that sounds like the contents page from Men's Journal. "I've always wanted to cross the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea...I would love to go and collect dinosaur fossils for a while. Probably in Montana or northern Arizona. I would really love to spend six months to a year in the Amazon basin, just being able to spend the day watching tree sloths."
But in Washington there are many demands on the Speaker's time. Since Newt became a national celebrity, he has no shortage of female admirers --from Callista Bisek, a former aide in Congressman Steve Gunderson's office who has been a favorite breakfast companion, to the ubiquitous Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, who has become a self-appointed guardian to the newly desirable Newt.
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