Gingrich Puts a Price on His Family Values : He sheltered his $4-million book bonanza from his struggling, non-trophy ex-wife.

<i> Robert Scheer is a former Times national correspondent. </i>

The news that Newt Gingrich will receive $4 million from Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house must have been greeted with dismay by his former wife, Jacqueline, down in Carroll County, Ga. Newt had pulled a fast one. It was only nine months ago that she consented to the congressman’s request for an amendment to their divorce decree that bars her from claiming additional funds due to an increase in his earnings.

Not to be too harsh on Newt, it must be terribly difficult balancing pro-family values with a commitment to a Darwinian survival of the fittest in the marketplace. Newt the congressman-author is a winner in life’s sweepstakes, Jacqueline the schoolteacher-mother is a loser, and that must be the way God and/or Adam Smith intended it.

She had free will. Nobody forced her to marry someone eight years younger. The man is supposed to marry someone younger, and Newt corrected that the second time around after divorcing Jacqueline in 1980 for “irreconcilable differences,” which he said had been the case through the 1970s, despite counseling.


But did he have to be so mean about it? As reported by L.H. Carter, his campaign treasurer, Newt said of Jacqueline: “She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the President. And besides, she has cancer.” Hard to believe, although according to the New Yorker, his wife did tell the congregation of her Baptist church: “The devil has taken his heart.” Maybe she was referring to his being so miserly in the matter of child support and alimony, but as Newt points out, we do have a safety net of private charity, and the congregants chipped in to help pay the utility bills.

The man has chutzpah. In his 1974 campaign, he ran on the slogan, “Newt’s family is like your family.” A sad but perhaps accurate commentary on life in suburban Georgia. In 1978, he ran an ad blasting his opponent, Virginia Shapard, saying, “If elected, Virginia will move to Washington, but her husband and her children will remain in Griffin.” Under Gingrich’s photo, it said: “When elected, Newt will keep his family together.”

And he did, until he filed for divorce 16 months later. His wife told the court she wanted to stay married although she had “ample grounds” for divorce herself. But she complained bitterly that he failed to support the family. As her petition stated:

“Despite repeated notices . . . plaintiff has failed and refused to voluntarily provide reasonable support sufficient to include payment of usual and normal living expenses, including drugs, water, sewage, garbage, gas, electric and telephone service for defendant and the minor children. As a result, many of such accounts are two or three months past due with notices of intent to cut off service . . . . “

Picky, picky. True, Newt was not broke, he was a sitting congressman with a substantial salary, but he had to maintain another residence in Washington and was about to remarry. How many garbage bills could he be expected to pay?

Newt argued that the mother of his two children could always go back to teaching, demonstrating his respect for women in the workforce. But the judge disagreed and ordered Newt to pay the utility bills, as well as $400 a month in child support and $1,300 in alimony. He also ordered that if Newt’s income ever rose over $100,000 a year, the court could modify payment.


Fast-forward 12 years to 1993 and back to court, where Jacqueline Gingrich pleaded that Newt had failed to obey the divorce decree from the day it was issued. She asked that “this court issue an order directing the sheriff of Carroll County, state of Georgia, to arrest and seize the defendant and incarcerate him in the common jail until said individual complies fully and completely with this court’s final judgment.”

That got the congressman’s attention. Accounts were quickly brought to order. But then Newt made a move that, in light of the $4 million book deal, would put Donald Trump to shame. He negotiated a new settlement last March in which he conceded that his income had increased and offered to pay his ex-wife an additional $350 a month. But there was a big catch. She had to give up her right to ask for an increase in alimony no matter what happened to his income. She naively accepted.

Well, Newt now has a chance to make amends. The Democrats are beating him up for accepting all that money from Murdoch at a time when the Australian magnate has controversial matters before Congress. Why not silence those carping critics by turning over the $4 million to the long-suffering ex-wife and children or, if that’s a sore point, just give it to some charities that support abandoned mothers.