Newt Gingrich, New Catholic, Presidential Hopeful

Who could have imagined that Newt Gingrich would stake his 2012 presidential run on his efforts to rebrand himself as a Catholic?

It’s a fascinating and, well, rather unlikely turn in the storyline for Gingrich, the twice-divorced former Southern Baptist, who was received into the Catholic Church in March 2009, and who now makes guest appearances with his wife Callista at Catholic-oriented anti-abortion-rights events across the country and at screenings of a film produced by the Gingriches celebrating Pope John Paul II’s role in the downfall of Communism.

Gingrich has even been heard telling audiences that the country’s alleged secularization (driven by a band of “cultural elites”) is to blame for all that ails it. That’s a story we’re hearing a lot these days from 2012 Republican hopefuls, their allies, and operatives — a reprise of 2008 events making a comeback in 2012, which frequently were built around the themes of Gingrich’s Rediscovering God In America.

Then, as a non-candidate, Gingrich was emphasizing religion. But what’s really up with his Catholic makeover? 

1.  Newt Gingrich has really, truly found a new religious lease on life.
2.  Newt Gingrich is hoping evangelical social conservatives will forget their deep-seated anti-Papistry and love his new Jesus credentials.
3.  Newt Gingrich is hoping the Latino base will forget the Republican’s deep-seated anti-immigrant politics and love his new Jesus credentials.
4.  Mrs. Gringrich the third (the former Callista Bisek, who we are trying not to notice met her husband by having an affair with him during his second marriage) has serious Catholic cred as well as serious first lady hair.

Discuss.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.