Before the South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney’s campaign raised eyebrows by bringing out two former House colleagues of Gingrich to attack his record as speaker.
“When Newt is in the room, Newt becomes the focus,” former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-NY) told reporters before the vote in the Palmetto State. In what the Washington Times dubbed a “devastating critique,” the moderate former lawmaker said that it would be difficult to have Gingrich as the Republican nominee this year when “[t]he issue has to be President Obama’s performance and the steady hand of the candidate running against him.”
Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who served with Gingrich in the House from 1992-2000, agreed, saying that controversial remarks the then-speaker made tying welfare reform legislation to orphanages such as in the movie “Boys Town” delayed enactment of the reform measure.
It is certainly true that several Republicans who served with Gingrich during his tumultuous tenure as speaker of the House (1994-98) had their problems with the Georgian. But it is also true, as Gingrich supporters told HUMAN EVENTS, that quite a number of his former colleagues are behind him.
As we noted before, Gingrich’s chairmen in two very critical primary states, South Carolina and Florida, are former Reps. John Napier and Bill McCollum respectively. Gingrich’s national campaign co-chairman is former Rep. Bob Walker (R-PA), a much-respected conservative who worked closely with Gingrich while he was speaker.
Former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, one of four black Republicans to have served in the House since the Depression, is a vigorous Gingrich surrogate campaigner. Bob Livingston, the former GOP lawmaker from Louisiana who served as House Appropriations Committee chairman while Gingrich was speaker, was in South Carolina this week to campaign for his onetime colleague.
Gingrich himself noted to HUMAN EVENTS that along with McCollum, several other former House members now living in Florida are active in his campaign in the primary there Jan. 31. Among them, he said, are former New York Rep. Gary Lee (now GOP chairman of Lee County, Florida) and Dick Schulz of Pennsylvania, also a transplant to Florida. Both are strong conservatives.
“And [former Wisconsin Rep.] Toby Roth, who came to the House with Newt and me in 1978, called and asked what he could do,” Lee told us.
Former colleagues of Gingrich have come to him at different times and from diverse places. Gingrich’s onetime colleague from the Peach State, former Rep. Bob Barr, was the ’08 Libertarian Party nominee for President. But this year, Barr is back in the Republican Party and supporting Gingrich.
So it is true that some former colleagues are strongly opposed to Gingrich—although in the case of Susan Molinari, rarely is it pointed out that her family has had a long-standing feud with the candidate. Her father and predecessor in the House, Guy Molinari, was bumped by seniority in favor of Gingrich for a subcommittee position he wanted. Molinari recently denounced Gingrich as “evil.” Susan Molinari’s husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-NY), was part of a failed coup against the then-speaker in 1997.
But it is also true that many former colleagues are for him as well.