This piece is part of an On Leadership round table exploring the role of first lady.
Of the many applause-generating moments in Thursday night’s GOP debate in South Carolina, none was more surprising than when the topic of open marriage came up. On the same day that Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, accused the former House Speaker of wanting a marriage that allowed him to see other women, Gingrich managed to turn the expected weakness into an applause line. He called host John King’s move to open the debate with a question about his personal life appalling and vicious, and said the accusation was false. The crowd in South Carolina went wild.
How much a candidate’s personal life should be subject to the harsh spotlight of the presidential campaign has long been up for debate. But even as voters in South Carolina seemed to give Gingrich a pass, there’s little question that the measure of a leader’s character does not stop at the end of his desk. Sure, the media’s obsession with personal foibles can distract from the much more pressing questions our country faces. But if voters care about what religion presidential candidates practice, or how much money they made in past jobs, I think it’s completely fair for them to know how candidates have treated the people they supposedly love the most, especially if it stands in contrast to what they say publicly.