What did Newt want? It all depends on what the meaning of “open marriage” is . . .

The Republican presidential candidates’ circular firing squad looks certain to continue at least until the primary vote in South Carolina.

Tonight, ABC will broadcast an interview with Newt Gingrich’s second wife (he’s on #3 right now), in which she tells the exact same story she told in Esquire in 2010. From that Esquire piece, when wife Marianne recounts finding out about his ongoing affair with his present wife:

[Marianne] called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. ” ‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ ”

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he answered. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

A Jaguar? A Chevrolet? Lovely ways to refer to women.

But that’s the same story that Marianne is telling tonight, except that this time she’s using the term “open marriage”:

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I don’t mean to split hairs in a Clintonian way, but “open marriage” is Gingrich’s ex-wife’s characterization. He apparently did not use those words, and I wouldn’t use those words to describe what he wanted. Like many men — and women — before him, he wanted to remain married and he wanted his spouse to let him continue an affair with someone else. He may or may not have wanted to add other affairs to the list (sounds like he did, but it’s not certain), and there is no evidence that he was encouraging Marianne to have affairs.

I think most people would define a marriage as “open” if both partners are allowed to have sexual encounters with a broad range of others.

Given that this exact story has been out there for well over a year — minus the words “open marriage” — I really don’t know if it will have much traction with South Carolina voters. Gingrich’s supporters have already cut their candidate a lot of slack for his personal life.