Callista Gingrich is probably the most recognizable spouse in the 2012 Republican presidential field. It’s not just her trademark look: the pastel suit; the perfect blonde coif; the frozen smile. It is that she is always there. In a campaign where some candidates’ partners are almost invisible–many political junkies probably couldn’t pick Herman Cain’s wife, Gloria, out of a lineup–Callista Gingrich seems attached to her husband at the hip.
Sources who know the couple well say that since Callista left her job as a staff member with the House Committee on Agriculture in 2007, she has played an increasingly active and visible role in her husband’s political and business enterprises, which has sometimes generated friction with other members of the Gingrich team. “They are definitely doing this together,” says one GOP operative who has known Newt and Callista for years. “She is no bystander.”
Gingrich’s third wife, 23 years his junior, Callista is described as ubiquitous, campaigning by her husband’s side and weighing in on everything from scheduling to strategy. Some associates insist any portrayal of Callista as tyrannical is overblown, though they admit her influence has ruffled feathers. In June, Callista insisted that the couple break from campaigning to go on a vacation in the Greek Islands. The campaign staff objected. Callista won. At least six members of the campaign resigned.
Her influence goes beyond the campaign. Even as 2012 approaches, Newt and Callista Gingrich continue to juggle business and politics together: roughly a third of the events that typically appear on Newt Gingrich’s campaign schedule are geared toward selling the couple’s books or video-documentaries. Callista occasionally appears alone, signing her children’s book, “Sweet Land of Liberty,” featuring the character Ellis the Elephant.
And Callista’s role has grown inside Newt Gingrich’s sprawling business empire. She is what could be described as the leader of the multimedia production division, head of philanthropy, as well as co-captain of book sales. There are at least five Gingrich-named organizations operating out of a K street office in Washington, D.C. Callista Gingrich is president of two of them: Gingrich Productions, the Gingrich’s documentary production company; and the Gingrich Foundation, the couple’s charitable organization.
Gingrich Productions churns out patriotic-themed documentary films that include odes to Ronald Reagan (“Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny”) and to religion in American life (“Rediscovering God in America II: Our Heritage.”) She also provides the voice for several of Gingrich’s audio books, including the domestic energy saga, “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less.”
Callista, a devout Catholic (Newt converted in 2009) and gifted musician, is also the president of the Gingrich Foundation, the charitable-giving arm of Newt’s machine. Tax forms show the money coming into the foundation is exclusively from Gingrich Holdings, one of the other five Gingrich firms on K Street, typically at a rate of around $150,000 a year. And the recipients of most of that money suggest the foundation is truly Callista’s baby. The largest recipients are Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Callista’s alma mater, which gets around $30,000 a year. The Basilica of the National Shrine at Catholic University gets around $20,000 a year. Callista is in the choir. And the City of Fairfax, Va. Band Association, where Callista plays the French horn, usually receives around $10,000 a year.
Acquaintances admit that Callista Gingrich’s stiff smile and crisp uniform make it easier for detractors to portray her as cold and manipulative, a characterization they say is not accurate, though she has apparently resisted internal campaign efforts to soften her edges. Those sources also say it is hard to overstate her ever-growing involvement in the Gingrich empire and her husband’s campaign, for better or for worse.