Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was rocked last week when his second ex-wife, Marianne, revealed to ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross that in 1999, the former Speaker confessed a six-year affair with a staffer and asked her for an open marriage so his relationship with his mistress could continue:

“I said to him, ‘Newt, we’ve been married a long time,’ and he said — ‘but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do’ … he was asking to have an open marriage and I refused … that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life… No. No. That is not a marriage.”

Naturally, since a GOP presidential debate was being held that same evening in Charleston, South Carolina, the moderator, CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, opened the debate with a question for Gingrich about the sensational allegations (which, being a human being with a pulse and functioning brain, Newt should have seen coming a mile away). When King asked Gingrich if he’d “like to take some time to respond to that,” Newt smarmily replied “No, but I will.”

The crowd roared its approval.

Gingrich continued:

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

Now the crowd was on its feet, cheering and hollering like churchgoers at a revival.

“Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine… and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.”

When King tried to cut in to explain that a.) it was not his network that broke the story, and b.) the question was a valid one as it had become a topic of conversation for many Americans, the crowd booed and Newt excoriated King with finger-wagging sanctimony:

“John, it was repeated by your network, you chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start the debate with it.”

He then emphatically denied his ex-wife’s allegations, adding that his campaign offered to send personal friends to vouch for his innocence but the network wasn’t interested because “they would like to attack any Republican… I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

That’s right: pay no attention to the jaw-dropping hypocrisy. This is all a massive anti-GOP conspiracy conjured up by that evil, elite, liberal media.

The sheer arrogance dripping from Gingrich’s response is nearly beyond comprehension. Sure, Newt’s planet-sized ego has been well documented (even by members of his own party), but Thursday’s display propelled the former Speaker to new heights of political narcissism. After all, when he spoke of the “decent” people who heroically choose to campaign for public office in the face of a “destructive” media onslaught, Mr. Gingrich — a thrice-married philanderer who served two wives with divorce papers while they were dealing with major medical problems — surely counted himself among them.

As I watched King’s question and Gingrich’s response, my head began to spin. What happened to the “personal responsibility” so fetishized by American conservatives? Is this self-victimizing, blame-the-media blowhard the same Newt Gingrich whose so-called “Contract with America” included a “Personal Responsibility Act” that denied welfare assistance to mothers under eighteen, blocked additional aid for dependent children if they were born while their mother was on welfare, and ended aid for dependent children entirely after five years? Is this pompous politician who kisses up to women outside his marriage the same one who pays lip service to the Religious Right’s “values” and travels the country speaking and peddling dozens of books about God, virtue, and the importance of family (including, unbelievably, a “God and the Founders”-type speech to a Republican women’s group in Erie, Pennsylvania just two days after his open marriage ultimatum to his wife)? Is this defiant, habitually non-monogamous sexual reprobate the same former House Speaker who demeaned married same-sex couples in lifelong committed relationships as “friends,” pledged to advance a constitutional amendment excluding same-sex couples from marriage, and funneled $200,000 into the successful effort to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices whose ruling allowed LGBT couples the freedom to marry?

Mr. Gingrich clearly fails to grasp the irony in the fact that he, a self-proclaimed “family values” man, was schtupping a staffer at the same time he was pharisaically pontificating against President Clinton for sexual immorality and leading the charge to impeach him for his extramarital activities. Newt’s ego is so monumental that once he could no longer conceal the affair, he had the temerity to demand in all seriousness that his wife “share” him with his mistress. And his self-righteousness is so epically proportioned that it blinds him to the dissonance between his apparent belief that he should have whatever kind of marriages, open or otherwise, that he wants and his stated conviction that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans should be forbidden from marrying at all.

Perhaps the only thing more disconcerting than last evening’s histrionic display? The fact that when Newt Gingrich abdicated his personal responsibility and blamed everyone else — ABC News, the media at large, his ex-wife — for his serial adultery and the troubling flaws in his character, the audience in South Carolina leaped to its feet and cheered.

Heaven help us.