Newt and Callista: oddest couple yet to aim for the White House

Jan 23, 2012
Charles Laurence

Much will depend on whether the Gingriches can spread their peculiarly American charms beyond the Confederate states

NEWT GINGRICH'S triumph in the Republicans' South Carolina primary at the weekend has revived the prospect of the oddest couple ever moving into the White House.

They wouldn't be the first unlikely tenants of the house at the epicenter of world power. Remember the pious Jimmy Carter, teetotal peanut farmer, or Ronnie Reagan, the second-rate film cowboy turned advertising pitch-man and his infinitely pretentious wife.

But consider surely this couple. Newt, whose preferred beverage is Coca-Cola, is 68 and has let his face run to jowls and veins and cascading flappy bits, all shining in the television lights under a mop of white hair which manages to look like a cheap rug despite being real enough.

While he is all butter, she is all knife. Callista Gingrich is the 45-year-old mistress who became the third wife, and who inspired the former Speaker of the House and down-scale college professor to open a half-million-dollar credit account for diamonds and pearls at Tiffany's.

Her nose is as sharp as an owl's beak, her jaw defined, her eyes round and piercingly blue, rarely blinking, and her hair-style is rapidly becoming a national phenomenon.  It is platinum blonde and as stiff and swooshing as a battle helmet.
A writer in the New Yorker magazine, bumping into her in the ladies' room of an Iowa airport, described how "she looked as if she had just left a beauty parlour in 1962".

The same writer, Ariel Levy, had caught up with the new frontrunner for the Republican nomination accompanying his wife on a book-selling outing to the souvenir shop at Mount Vernon, historic home of George Washington.

She has written a children's book called Sweet Land of Liberty. It features Elli the Elephant, a Republican elephant, who travels through American history dispensing rhyming couplets such as "Independence was not so easily won./It would take years of fighting and fighting's not fun".

A couple of weeks ago the word was that Callista, a Wisconsin meat packer's daughter who snagged Newt while interning on Capitol Hill during his moment of glory in the 1990s, would bring him down as surely as an albatross around his neck.

As the contest moved to bible-thumping South Carolina, surely her living testament to Newt's own lax morality would leave him a smear on the voting booth floor?
At 19, Gingrich married his schoolteacher, seven years his elder, fathered two daughters, and then left her for a second wife who brought him to Washington. Notoriously, he had gone to the hospital where Jacqueline, the first wife, was recovering from cancer surgery, to ask for a divorce.

Marianne, the second wife, has lately been telling the TV shows that after Gingrich got into bed with Callista, he asked for an "open marriage". That, thought Marianne, looking for revenge, would sink Newt's chances in the righteous South.

But it turned out that in South Carolina Newt was greeted as "one of us". There are plenty of gun-toting Bible-thumpers who are on their second or third wives. He is a man they find it easy to slap on the shoulder and feed another hot-dog.

The pundits are saying that much will depend on whether Gingrich and Callista can spread their peculiarly American charms beyond the Confederate states.

Tatjana Belajic, Callista's hairdresser in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, reports that so far, no one has requested "the Callista". Are the auguries against a Newt and Callista White House?

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