Do you care what Newt and Mitch have hiding in their closets at home?

Should conservatives expect their candidates to be squeaky clean before running for office?

Take Newt Gingrich. Treating Newt as a serious 2012 Presidential Candidate for the GOP is a bit difficult . I don’t doubt the intelligence of the man, or his political savvy, or his ability to run a well-oiled campaign— it’s every bit of the moral fiber and character of Newton Leroy Gingrich that I just can’t swallow.

Old dirt, I know, but it’s hard to get past the record, both private and public. Gingrich’s personal life is a sad series of infidelity, deception and cold-hearted betrayal of any adherence to the sanctity of marriage or the value of truthfulness in personal commitments. The details and quotes from this profile in Esquire last September and interview with his second wife, of 18 years, Marianne Gingrich—the divorces, the wife with cancer and the affairs—still makes it difficult to believe that Gingrich believes he can charm the American people into giving him a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gingrich takes public solace in the fact that he has been “ forgiven ” and that he made mistakes back in the 1990s, but it’s still hard for many people to accept this long-term pattern of infidelity, particularly when Gingrich caveats his repentance with,

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

I struggle with that past, that justification of feeling “passionately” about America, and Gingrich’s obsession with “winning the news cycle,” often at the expense of rationality, common sense and decency .

Gingrich may have entered into the 2012 race, baggage and all, but another potential candidate seems on the verge of being pushed into the water as well—despite a less than perfect family narrative.

The story is nothing new. Mitch and Cheri Daniels had a period in the 1990s where Cheri divorced her husband and left for California with a doctor—who also left his own family. A few years later, Cheri returned, and Mitch and Cheri were remarried.

It’s a footnote to the story of a largely impressive and accomplished political career . Daniels has achieved impressive economic and sweeping gains as the governor of Indiana— his recent speech at AEI on education reform touted a list of achievements that most individuals can only campaign on, but never actually accomplish.

But as Daniels tiptoes to the edge of the 2012 pool of announced contenders, this footnote is beginning to grow louder.

Daniels says that, “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story,” but he and his wife have remained largely silent on the entire chapter of their life. It’s understandable. There seems little reason to dredge up a painful and unpleasant experience like this one, but if Daniels wants to run, then the questions will come.

And so returning to Newt, the question could be raised of these two men, “What of the past has relevance on this present electoral cycle?”

There are differences which are obvious, involving the apparent offending parties in both of these cases, but larger questions still loom over the political landscape, involving the public’s right to know and the implications of these events on these men’s ability to fulfill the duties of the presidency.

Christianity teaches that true repentance absolves a man of his sin before God, but should there still be consequences in the eyes of man? Should the American people simply “forgive and forget” the infidelity of Gingrich?

I grew up in the Bible Belt of the South, listening to the rhetoric that swirled in the aftershocks of Clinton’s presidency. I listened as people, and more than a few pastors, hammered the fact that a man who couldn’t be faithful to his wife wasn’t fit to lead a country. Separating what a man (or woman) did in private, away from the carrying out the responsibility of their public office, appeared destroyed in the eyes of social conservatives.

But now we are living in a time when every action is micro-covered on Facebook or YouTube. We are increasingly reminded that no politician is a complete angel. And as the GOP has seen a sad list of leaders drop to the revelations of moral shortcomings, past and present—just how clean should the past of our candidates be, and what constitutes an acceptable resume for the Republican nominee?

There are no straightforward answers to these questions. But as a party who has, at least publicly, demanded the moral high ground from their candidates in the past, the candidacies of Daniels and Gingrich should force voters to carefully consider their own hearts and rhetoric on issues of faith, repentance and the qualifications of the presidency.

While the charge of hypocrisy is often cast quickly and without true context, conservatives could help themselves by not letting one issue—whether that’s a candidate’s stance on marriage, their commitment to smaller government, or their support/opposition of climate change legislation—turn into the only factor in deciding the direction of their political support.

Character cannot be reduced to a talking point. Sincerity of belief should be reflected across one’s entire life, not just when it’s time to run for office. If a person’s private actions should disqualify them for leadership on the basis of morality, then that moral standard should hold regardless of the party affiliation.

Attacking Obama or speaking out against radical Islamists cannot be the only penance that redeems a candidate’s credentials for conservatism or morality.

This may not be a new argument, but for those of us who call ourselves conservative—either in 2012 or 2016— it’s a question that we must answer.

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