Newt Gingrich continued on Friday to try to turn his ex-wife's televised interview about his infidelity to his advantage, telling CNN that his outburst over a question on the topic at Thursday's GOP debate showed both his forceful nature as well as the public's willingness to see him as human.
Appearing on Erin Burnett Out Front, the former House speaker contended that voters can relate to his angry reaction at the GOP debate in South Carolina on receiving the first question from moderator John King about his ex-wife Marianne's comments that he was unfaithful to her. That's because it fits with their image of a leader, he said.
"I think people want a leader who's forceful, knows what they think," said Gingrich, who has surged ahead of Mitt Romney in South Carolina polls leading up to its Saturday primary. "If I had said the color is blue, it's the forcefulness. They know, at least our side of the country -- the Republicans, the conservatives, the tea partiers, independents -- we think the country's in real trouble, so they're looking for a leader that has a forcefulness and a clarity. The delivery of that clearness is as important as a specific topic."
Marianne Gingrich told ABC News in the interview that her husband -- to whom she was married for 18 years -- asked her for an open marriage, an allegation Gingrich has vehemently denied. Gingrich agreed with Burnett's suggestion that his experiences have helped him in connecting with people.
"I think people are actually a lot smarter than our analysts believe they are," he said. "And they lead complete lives. And they look around and go, you know, that's just not true. And there's a kind of judgment there that's real. In addition, I had a pastor who said to me, you know, in some ways, having somebody who's had pain in their life is really helpful, because -- you have somebody whose life has been too perfect, they don't understand pain."
He said he objected to both the timing of the ABC News interview and the implication he said the network was trying to project that the details of their troubled marriage were a secret. Marianne Gingrich had given an interview to Esquire in 2010 in which she had talked of his affair and their divorce.
"I don't believe anybody is going to vote tomorrow who didn't already know I had been divorced and remarried," he said. "It's all been out here for eight months. And there was a sense of well, why would ABC News bring it up now and do it the way they did it? And I think that's what people just said: 'Wait a second, that's over the line.'"
Gingrich also said that while a candidate's moral background is an issue for voters for consider, they should view it in context against the severe problems besetting the country.
"I think the country's in so much trouble," he said. "Somebody said to me the other week, if you think you have a serious illness, what you want to know is not what kind of car does the doctor drive, but whether or not he's a good doctor."
He described President Obama as amiable, but "radical" and lacking confidence in his ability to govern. "I would never beat Obama in a personality contest and I wouldn't try. He's a very likable person," he said. "But the presidency's not about likeability."
In a subsequent interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Gingrich said he's inclined to remain combative to accomplish what he wants.
"Frankly, if we are going to change Washington, this is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I mean, there are judges, there are bureaucrats, there are laws, there are members of Congress -- this is going to be a running challenge to the old order and the old establishment. And much of it will be like that interaction with John King."