Gingrich's hand ‘always six inches from the self-destruct button’

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are nervous about Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls, with one member saying, “Newt’s hand is always six inches from the self-destruct button.”

The legislator, who served with Gingrich in the House, is one of many who are concerned the Georgia Republican will capture the 2012 presidential nomination. 

The member requested anonymity to avoid finding himself crosswise with a candidate now considered to have a real shot at facing President Obama in the general election. 


Despite being in Washington for decades and leading the 1994 GOP revolution, Gingrich only has garnered six endorsements from Republican House members, and none in the Senate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has sunk in the polls, has 13 (including from one senator) while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has 46 (including from 8 senators).

Some of Gingrich’s former colleagues attribute the scarce endorsements to the former House Speaker’s leadership style. 

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-N.C.), who served in the House from 1995 through 2004, said that sentiment is true from a certain standpoint. 

“Any time you throw a thousand ideas out there, you got a great likelihood that a great majority of them are not very good,” he said. 

“He was the right person to flip the U.S. House. He was not the long-term manager you needed to run the agenda,” Burr said, adding that Gingrich in the White House “might be a tough fit.” 

A spokesman for Gingrich did not respond to a request for comment. 

Gingrich this spring infuriated many Republicans in Congress when he blasted Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan praises Trump: 'He's not taking any crap' The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks MORE’s (R-Wis.) Medicare reform plan. 

Ryan, who has not yet backed a candidate for president, responded, “With allies like that, who needs the left?”

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Juan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise MORE (R-Kan.), who served in the House from 1981 through 1996, said he always got along with Gingrich. He added that the former Speaker had an “ability to get people together and settle an issue by sheer will or intellectual dominance.” 

But Roberts acknowledged Gingrich has a “very strong personality, so maybe he rubbed somebody the wrong way.” 

Gingrich, who was first elected to the House in 1978 and held the post of minority whip from 1989 through 1994, had trouble keeping his own troops in line once he took over the Speaker’s gavel. 

In the summer of 1997, his deputies — including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and then-House Conference Chairman John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE (R-Ohio) — met secretly to plan a coup to replace Gingrich as Speaker. 

Then-Rep. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), who now serves in the Senate, was also involved in the scheme. Coburn earlier this year said he would not support Gingrich for president. 

Gingrich found out about the plot and quashed it, but it damaged him politically. 

He faced another internal insurrection just over a year later when then-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), a longtime friend, announced plans to run for Speaker after House Republicans surprisingly lost five seats in the 1998 midterm elections. 

Gingrich was unable to withstand the second challenge and retired. 

Republicans at the time worried that Gingrich’s controversial leadership style had hurt the party’s brand. The decision to pursue impeachment proceedings against then-President Clinton had left a bad taste with voters and was credited with helping Democrats defy historical trends and pick up seats during Clinton’s second midterm election. 

One instance of when Gingrich’s personality overshadowed the Republican message was in November of 1995, when Gingrich complained about Clinton banishing him to the back of Air Force One during a flight to Israel for the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

His comment prompted a strong backlash, epitomized by a New York Daily News cover, depicting Gingrich as a diapered baby throwing a tantrum. 

Republicans also lamented that Clinton outmaneuvered Gingrich during the 1995-1996 government shutdowns.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley raises concerns about objectivity of report critical of GOP tax law's effects Overnight Health Care: Key Trump drug pricing proposal takes step forward | Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic loses bid for license | 2020 Democrats to take part in Saturday forum on abortion rights Key Trump proposal to lower drug prices takes step forward MORE (R-Iowa), who overlapped with Gingrich in the House for only two years in the late ’70s, said Romney is considered a more dependable candidate. 

“I don’t think it should surprise you because he had just a fall in June and he’s just gradually climbing his way back and Romney has been a ‘Steady Eddie’ and people look to him as some one who isn’t going to explode and Gingrich did in June,” Grassley said of the disparity in endorsements. 

Gingrich’s campaign manager and senior staff members resigned earlier this year after questioning his focus on the nuts and bolts of the race. 

Grassley, meanwhile, has not endorsed a candidate in the GOP primary.

Recent polls show Gingrich leading Romney in Iowa, Florida and South Carolina.

There’s some evidence that Romney’s campaign might be getting nervous — it pressed Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (R-S.D.), who represents Iowa’s neighbor to the west, to announce his endorsement early. Thune said he was thinking about waiting until closer to the caucuses. 

Thune, who served with Gingrich in the House in 1997 and 1998, said his endorsement of Romney was not a statement against the former Speaker. 

“It wasn’t like I was deciding against anybody, I just decided for Romney,” Thune said. “My view was that at certain times in the nation’s history you need certain styles of leadership. Right now we need somebody who knows what it’s like to turn failing enterprises around. Romney’s done that in business, he did that with the Olympics.”

Thune is the only GOP leadership member in Congress who has backed a candidate in the presidential primary.