An open-and-shut case of the creeps
Open primary: You didn't have to be a Republican to vote in Saturday's South Carolina GOP presidential contest.
Open season: You don't have to be a political expert to know that the only way Mitt Romney can close the income-tax mess that helped derail him here is by opening his returns to the public.
Huh? How did that sordid swingers' concept intrude on the White House race?
Marianne Gingrich, the second wife of thrice-wed Newt, told ABC's Brian Ross on "Nightline" Thursday night that the former House speaker "was asking to have an open marriage and I refused." She said Newt told her that his mistress at the 1999 time -- Callista Bisek, who became his wife in 2000 -- "was OK" with the idea to "share" him.
Uh-oh. Just as Republicans condemn gay marriage, they're not too keen on open marriage, either.
Gingrich denied the allegations. He also turned the icky story in his favor when CNN moderator John King opened Thursday night's debate at the North Charleston Coliseum by asking him about it.
Gingrich said he was "appalled" by the question.
More likely he was thrilled by the opening to harshly chastise another "elite media" member. Newt's knack for bashing such journalists endears him to many conservatives and helped boost him to a rousing victory in our state Saturday.
Yet does that prove Gingrich would make a good nominee -- or a good president?
And does the glut of these frequently unseemly "debates" advance the conservative cause?
Former S.C. GOP Chairman Katon Dawson told our ace political reporter Schuyler Kropf Thursday: "This has become the reality show of presidential politics, that's what the Republican party has let happen."
Maybe that was sour grapes. Dawson's presidential pick, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, had just given up the chase and endorsed Gingrich.
However, Thursday night's sniping-and-griping fest was the 17th debate -- way too many considering that Saturday's election was only the second GOP primary.
Though few Americans watch every minute of every debate, plenty repeatedly see the candidates' news-grabbing gaffes and spats. Hence, this misleading-yet-cumulative perception permeates: These guys are a bunch of cranky goofballs.
Hey, you'd cranky, too, if you participated in one debate that ended at 11 p.m. and another that started at 9 the next morning, as the GOP field did in New Hampshire. For the rest of us, watching the relentless groveling-for-votes act wears thin. Would Dwight Eisenhower have subjected himself to such indignity?
Though John F. Kennedy was 1960 viewers' winner in the first televised presidential debate, Richard Nixon got the nod from those who listened to it on radio. Why?
Because JFK was much better looking than "Tricky Dick," who compounded that visual disadvantage when he showed up with his face darkened by 5 o'clock shadow stubble.
At least the remaining 2012 GOP candidates are handsomer than Nixon. Well, maybe two of them.
But while the Republicans have been enduring the debating trial by ordeal, President Barack Obama has held just one news conference since last summer. That's a steeply uneven playing field on tough-question scrutiny.
The president is also aiming for a $1 billion re-election war chest to bankroll a flood of negative ads. So are you Newtniks still sure you want to nominate a man who has, in pollster parlance, extraordinarily high "negatives"?
Back to Mrs. Gingrich No. 2: Despite her "Nightline" assertion that Gingrich lacks the moral character needed for the presidency, Ross reported that "Marianne Gingrich says she does have many fond memories of Newt -- holding hands on the mall, hiking the mountains, dressing up on Halloween."
As Ross voiced that moving lament of what once was and no longer is, the screen showed pictures of those better times. The final one was an image of Newt in a frog costume (or was it a newt?) and Marianne in a pig outfit.
And you thought "open marriage" was scary.