Republican-o-rama: A debate, a wronged wife, a Perry pull-out, a Santorum sally, a Newt of a night

Rick Perry drops out! Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife says he wanted an “open marriage,” with the woman who became his current wife! Herman Cain is climbing aboard the Colbertrain! The Obama campaign released a new ad (see below)! It turns out Rick Santorum scored a victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa! And CNN held a John Kingly debate followed by Anderson Cooperly analysis! On Thursday, things were busier in politics, and in the media covering politics, than Steven Tyler in a roomful of teenage American Idolettes.

Marianne Gingrich divorced Newt in 1999; he had left her for Callista Bisek, whom he married in 2000. In a Nightline interview Thursday night, Marianne told ABC’s Brian Ross that Newt came to her while they were still married and said that Callista didn’t want to “wait.” Ross asked her what she thought he’d meant by that. She replied, “He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.” (See Nightline interview clip here.) How John Updikean! An example of what the late, great lit crit Wilfrid Sheed, reviewing Couples, referred to as “man’s ingenious nesting habits.” (Gingrich’s daughters by his first marriage, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, have said the “open marriage” suggestion was “not true.”)

Bringing up Marianne’s charges in his very first question, moderator John King, looking to start the CNN debate out with some sparks, asked Newt, “Would you like to take some time to respond to that?” Instead, the question blew up in his face via Gingrich’s explosive response. “No, but I will,” he said, to cheers and pleased laughs from the audience at the ease with which the candidate turned the tables on King. Excoriating “a destructive, vicious, negative” news media rather than criticizing his ex-wife, Gingrich said, ” I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a subject like that… This is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.” Gingrich punctuated his answer by saying, “The story is false.”

There was relatively little jabbing at each other among the debating Gang of Four. They were united in attacks on President Obama. Rick Santorum said that Obama has created “economic squalor” and called Obama’s military budget cuts “disgusting.” Romney compared Obama’s health-care policy to the economic distress that’s been felt by “Amtrak and the post office.” And Gingrich said he had an offer for “the parents of America: Elect us and your children will be able to move out, because they’ll have work!”

Well, almost not much jabbing. Santorum tried to raise the subject of Gingrich’s mercurial nature by saying, “I don’t want a president [about whom I have to] worry what he’s going to say next…we can’t afford that in a President.”

And Santorum tried to make a case that you can’t trust either Romney or Gingrich to repeal (say it together now) “Obamacare.” He said he’d been working to reform the health-care system on his conservative terms, while “these two guys were playing footsie with the Left.” (In Santorum-World, Obama = an old New Leftist.) Have I not mentioned Ron Paul? I’m afraid he didn’t make much of an impact this evening — even the audience had to remind John King to let him answer a group question. Paul’s most notable moment was when, late in the debate, he favored the force of morality over the force of law, an intriguing subject, but one he diminished by pointing to the 1960s, which, according to Paul, ushered in “drugs and the pornography.” Funny, many times when I glance up at my TV and see Ron Paul, I’m struck anew by how much he looks like a more neatly dressed Timothy Leary.

In his closing remarks, Gingrich bubbled over with his white-hot Obama critique: “The level of radicalism in his second term will be truly frightening.” He concluded with his fave comparison, describing the President as “a Saul Alinsky radical that cannot be elected.” Oh, Newt, without you, only Glenn Beck would still be keeping Alinsky’s spirit alive.

Speaking of Obama, his new ad is a 30-second quickie touting his energy policies.

You can go to newspaper and political blogs to see which fact-checking you like for the data the ad asserts; I’m in this for the media-savviness, the pop-culture punch, and the art. On those counts, this ad is Dullsville, a rushed recitation of claims, a brief whine of embattlement (“secretive oil billionaires attacking President Obama”), and a riot of clashing type-faces: I give it a C- grade and urge the President to replace his TV art director.

Twitter: @kentucker

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