Are Values Voters Preparing to Forgive Gingrich’s Infidelities?

Are values voters preparing to forgive Newt Gingrich’s infidelities? Evangelical leaders seem to be moving in that direction, reports Dave Weigel. Notoriously anti-Mormon pastor Robert Jeffress succinctly summed up the status of the race, in the eyes of evangelical conservatives:

“I think there’s now an evangelical tri-lemma,” says Jeffress, who still backs Perry but doesn’t have illusions about his current electoral oomph. “Do you vote for a Mormon who’s had one wife, a Catholic who’s had three wives, or an evangelical who may have had an entire harem?”

With Herman Cain nearing the end of the line, evangelicals find themselves with few options. Which wins out as the most disqualifying sin: Mormonism or serial adultery?

It sounds like the key is repentance. While Romney’s a practicing Mormon, Gingrich has supposedly atoned for his philandering days. It’s not much, but with such slim pickings for evangelicals, it could be enough to get Gingrich some key Religious Right endorsements:

They were accidentally disagreeing with Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of the FAMiLY Leader. “There’s been a sincere life change for Newt Gingrich,” he says. “Now, if Newt would have had a Road to Des Moines conversion this year, it might be hard to take him seriously. But since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity. He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

The actual values voters may be more difficult to convince, however. According to a recent Public Religion Research Poll, evangelical Protestants are not particularly forgiving when it comes to infidelity: 70 percent say an elected official who commits adultery should resign. They also closely associate personal faithfulness with professional trustworthiness.

These are similar to focus group findings by evangelical leader Richard Land, who says Gingrich will need to do more if he wants to win the evangelical vote. Namely, he’ll need to apologize publicly (again) and explain that period of his life. Gingrich hasn’t responded to Land’s advice yet — but so far on the campaign trail, he hasn’t exactly shown a willingness to engage in additional self-reflection.