Marianne Gingrich interview tonight: Is this the end for Newt?
The race in South Carolina appears to be tightening, with Gingrich solidifying his position as a clear #2 behind Romney, if still well back (Mitt 33, Newt 23), likely to narrow the gap with another stand-out debate performance tomorrow, and positioned to pick up further support should Santorum, currently running third, fade in the remaining days before Saturday's vote, but there are some ominously dark clouds on the horizon for poor Newt, and his campaign might just be on the verge of exploding (or imploding, if you prefer) into oblivion.
And why would that be?
Two words: Marianne Gingrich.
His second wife (of three), that is, who once said that she could destroy The Newt's career with a single interview... and who has given an interview to ABC News that is scheduled to be aired on tonight's Nightline (after the GOP candidates' debate).
It's not like she courts the media's attention. She gave an interview to Esquire in 2010, but that was pretty much it. To her credit, perhaps, she hasn't tried to bring Newt down with salacious stories of his past.
But this is television, not a magazine, and it's the height of the political season, with Newt challenging for the Republican nomination for president. Even if she doesn't say anything new or even all that remarkable in the interview, the damage to Newt is potentially enormous.
Of course, it's fair to ask, why now? I suppose an interview before Iowa would have been damaging, but this could finish him off for good, and just when he's showing a few signs of life. (Rasmussen has Newt just three points behind Mitt nationally. Rasmussen is hardly the most credible pollster, and this would appear to be an outlier, but still.)
As my good friend Joe Gandelman notes, "[t]he real story here will be less about what his ex-wife says: what can she tell people about Gingrich that people already don't suspect or think he is capable of? The REAL story is a) how did this story come about; b) did she contact ABC out of the blue; c) did ABC seek her out; and d) was she encouraged to come forward by the Romney camp?"
Good questions. Romney is clearly worried, and he's going negative: "He released two new negative web videos, unleashed attacking surrogates and even went after the former House speaker himself. And that was all before lunch on Wednesday." (Yikes.) Given how brutally the Romney Super PAC (which may not coordinate with the candidate but which certainly does his bidding) went after Newt in the lead-up to Iowa, helping to crush his short tenure as frontrunner, would you really put it past Romney to play the Marianne card now?
Maybe he has, maybe he hasn't. But suspicions of playing dirty will hound Romney and provide a subtext to tonight's interview. Perhaps Newt can even turn it to his advantage: "Yes, I did bad things. I've admitted that, and apologized. I'm a different man now. A good, god-fearing man. And" -- pointing at Romney -- "all this moderate from Massachusetts can do is try to smear me. For shame!"