DOWD: The transformational wife behind Newt

Keywords Forefront / Opinion
  • Comments
  • Print

Maureen DowdIf you want to figure out why Newt Gingrich is still out there grasping for lost power, howling at the moon like King Lear, look to Callista.

You can find her anytime standing statue-still on stage next to Newt as he speaks, gazing at him with such frozen attentiveness that she could give a master class to Nancy Reagan.

The 45-year-old Callista has created an entirely new model for a spouse, standing mute in her primary color suits and triple-strand pearls looking at the 68-year-old Newt for the whole event, her platinum carapace inclined deferentially toward his shaggy gray mane.

“She’s a transformational wife,” Alex Castellanos, the Republican strategist, told me. “She’s the wife who makes the candidate think he is destiny’s gift to mankind, born to greater things.”

While a trophy wife is admired by her man, the admiring eyes of a Transformational Wife are there to propel her man to the next level. And when a woman who wants to be a Transformational Wife merges with a man who calls himself a Transformational Figure, you can expect a narcissistic blastoff.

Castellanos weaves the common tale of a “great but frustrated” man: “The first wife, and often the second, do not grasp his brilliance or grandeur. The starter wives try to confine him in their small world. But his drive to fulfill his gargantuan potential is too powerful. He rebelliously breaks conventions.

“Then he finds the muse who sees him as he sees himself. He is a man of history and belongs to something larger. She agrees that his rejections have been the fault of the audience. They cannot stare into a light so bright. She directs and channels him, saying, ‘This is what you have to do to achieve your destiny.’

“Now he is unleashed. The best and worst of him have been fed and watered.”

The Republican establishment is chasing Newt around the country with a butterfly net. But when he looks into Callista’s bright blue eyes, he’s reminded of his adolescent dreams of exploring galaxies and saving civilization.

When Barack is cocky and looks at Michelle, he might see her thinking: “You’re no messiah. Pick up your socks.” But when Newt is cocky and looks at Callista, he sees her thinking: “You are the messiah. We’ll have your socks bronzed.”

Where Michelle sees herself as the puncturer of delusions, “the Department of ‘Let’s Get Real,’” as an aide called her, Callista reinforces Newt’s delusion that he can be president—even when the staff quit en masse last June because he put pampering her above campaigning.

Draped in Tiffany diamonds, Callista is the embodiment of the divide between Gingrich’s public piety and private immorality.

Gingrich’s communications director, Joe DeSantis, has airbrushed Callista’s Wikipedia page 23 times since 2008, often to banish unflattering details from the site, according to BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski.

DeSantis edited the introduction, taking out the fact that she is “the third wife of,” and excising the sentence, “She met her husband while he was in the House, and had an affair while he was conducting the impeachment investigation for President Bill Clinton.”

As The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reported, the top Google search for Gingrich in Florida during the primary there was “Callista,” right up there with “Newt wives” and “Newt scandals.”

That may be why she has a largely nonspeaking role in the campaign, as silent as the slender heroine of “The Artist,” even though Newt relays that she has described herself as a hybrid of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jackie Kennedy. The campaign does not want to remind voters that the relationship, portrayed as so redemptive, was born in sin and hypocrisy.

There’s always a chance, of course, that Callista is not staring so intently at Newt to make him feel more Napoleonic. Maybe she just doesn’t want to let him out of her sight.

As the maxim goes, “When a man marries his mistress, he creates a job opening.•


Dowd is a New York Times columnist. Send comments on this column to

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.