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Conservative “Redemption” Story a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for Overmoralizing Philanderers

The story from Evan McMorris-Santoro here, about conservatives turning up their nose and saying “Meh” to the upcoming Marianne Gingrich revelations, even the open marriage stuff, is completely anecdotal. But it fits with a general story about redemption that conservative Christians often tell themselves to allow for a candidate who fails them morally but still offers them low taxes and a strong national defense.

They may not all vote for Newt Gingrich, but they all agree that voters here won’t be moved by stories of a 68 year-old former House Speaker’s sex life.

After all, they told me, have you seen what’s on TV these days?

“I think after the blue dress, and Clinton, it doesn’t matter anymore, You know?” said Barbara Thompson, a retired school teacher waiting in line to shake Gingrich’s hand after his second stop of the day in Beaufort.

Thompson is undecided (she’s picking between Gingrich and Mitt Romney) but she said whatever Marianne has to say won’t sway her, or really have much of an impact here thanks to a change in the “standards” in the country.

“I don’t think it will hurt at all,” she told me. “Things have changed, everybody has friends whose daughters aren’t married and have children. Everything has changed.”

I wish this was actually a story about public attitudes and the end of American priggishness. It’s not. It’s a story about conservatives redeeming their own, their David Vitters, their Newt Gingriches, whoever aligns with them politically. Redemption is a staple of many people’s faith – in his concession speech today, Rick Perry used the concept when he absolved Gingrich with the line, “There is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption.” But that’s not really what’s going on. It’s about conservative tribalists giving one of their own a break.

So Mitt Romney should not rely on this interview to knock Gingrich out of the race in South Carolina. In fact, I think the polls show pretty clearly that Gingrich will win South Carolina, and it won’t even be particularly close. Romney’s team knows this, that’s why they’re building a firewall in Florida with a massive $2 million ad buy from their SuperPAC.

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David Dayen

David Dayen