There is an argument that the circumstances regarding Newt Gingrich's marital history is relevant My own view is that, in terms of assessing character, other people's marriage circumstances are almost always nonjusticiable. Relationships are normally complex and we almost never can know enough about someone else's life to assign "blame" (or even to know whether there is "blame") for martial woes. This is not moral relativism. It's a moral humility that recognizes that this is an area of life that outsiders can't really know enough about to judge.
Still, family break-up is an enormous problem for children and, in particular, children of low income parents who often lack the resources and social capital to handle the consequences. Some conclude that the "bad example" offered by Gingrich (who, you have to admit, has a tough history) is appropriately counted against his candidacy.
A good argument for that point of view. alneit from a Catholic perspective, is offered by Ramesh Ponneru. But the argument - as Ramesh recognizes - goes only so far. It suggests that Newt's marital past is a negative factor, but not a dispositive one.
Here's an historical question and a thought experiment. First, the historical question. Which of the following group of Presidents was stronger: Teddy R., Harding, FDR, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Reagan and Clinton or Taft, Coolidge, Nixon, Carter and the Bushes, There are, I think, good and bad in both groups but most people on both sides of the aisle would probably chose the first. I think you know what divides them.
Here's the thought experiment. Imagine that you are a committed supporter of Barack Obama (perhaps you are) and believe that his re-election is critical to the future of the country. In a tearful press conference, Michelle Obama announces that her husband has has an affair and proposed that she allow him to continue on with his mistress. She refused and he has decided to divorce her and marry the other woman.
Are you going to vote Republican?
The answer, for most liberals that I know is "of course, not" and I don't blame them. As much as they might disapprove of the President's conduct, the fate of their country (as they see it) trumps whatever judgment they might form (if they can form a judgment) about his behavior as a husband.
But what about that cardinal sin of a morally agnostic society, hypocrisy? Aren't the Republicans the party of family values? I have at least two problems with that. First, are we now to presume that the Democrats oppose family values? I know that they get accused of that, but I haven't heard them accept the criticism. Second, there is a difference between fostering an ideal and recognizing that it cannot always be achieved. This is one of the reasons that concern about marital dissolution and its impact on kids (for what it's worth, the children of Gingrich's first marriage were older at the time of his first divorce and he had no children with his second wife) does not imply the prohibition of divorce. The promotion of an ideal does not require us to ignore human fallibility or the nature or real world relationships.
Interestingly, the Marianne Gingrich story seems to have had no impact in deep red South Carolina where Gingrich handily carried both evangelicals (itself a nice trick for a Catholic) and married women.
I am not a fan of Newt Gingrich and I'm not supporting him for the nomination. He is a man with enormous gifts and enormous flaws (these things often go together). He's got more problems than serial monogamy, But if the choice is between Newt and Barack Obama, the public good requires, in my view, voting for Newt.