At a press conference in Iowa shortly before Christmas, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was asked if we would hear more from his wife Callista as the campaigned moved forward. Gingrich threw the question to Callista, who responded, "If R.C. says yes."
R.C. is R.C. Hammond, Gingrich's campaign spokesman and one of the people that controls the overall message of the campaign. After his wife's reference to Hammond, Gingrich added: "We're waiting for R.C. to unleash her and he's being very measured and paced."
That's something of an understatement. There's no doubt that Callista has been a constant visual feature on the campaign trail: She can almost invariably be seen over Gingrich's left shoulder while he delivers a speech, or trailing behind him as he works a rope line. Yet her role on the campaign trail this far has largely been to be seen and not heard.
That's in contrast to Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who will often give a short speech of her own while introducing her husband. (Most recently, she did so after Romney's win in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.) She's not alone: Both Mary-Kaye Huntsman and Anita Perry were active speakers before their husbands left the race, with Mary-Kaye Huntsman often introducing Jon Huntsman at events and Anita Perry holding campaign events separate from her husband Rick Perry.
At the late December press conference, Gingrich described his wife as "a very disciplined, professional person." Yet for the most part, voters have not been able to judge for themselves, a fact that is starting to come under increased scrutiny. Last week, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos told the New York Times' Maureen Dowd that Callista is a "transformational wife" whose role is to reinforce the notion that her husband is "destiny's gift to mankind, born to greater things" - a woman whose role is largely to quietly and supportively stand by while her husband achieves his destiny.
One reason Callista has been so quiet so far may be the fact that she is Gingrich's third wife - one who by her very presence serves as a reminder of Gingrich's tumultuous personal history. But in this day and age, the wives of presidential candidates are expected to be more than mute, smiling presences beside their man. If Gingrich becomes the Republican presidential nominee - or even if he manages one more political comeback that makes such a scenario plausible again - the pressure will increase for the campaign to let Callista show voters an identity that goes beyond supportive wife.