Newt Gingrich was a huge hit at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition's forum for presidential candidates who came to express their undying love and devotion to Israel.
As the former Speaker of the House leads in many polls among the Republican rank and file, one of the big surprises has been the reaction of his former Congressional colleagues who he led out of 40 years in the wilderness to the promised land of the majority in 1994. It's not just the dearth of endorsements from politicians who he helped elect but their doubts about his qualifications for the big job.
Some of Gingrich's fellow Republicans appear more worried about his possible candidacy than the Democrats.
"Most of us are terrified to death that he would become the nominee," said former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-NY), who served under Gingrich's leadership as did her husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-NY), who left Congress shortly after taking part in a failed coup to overthrow the Speaker.
Former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-FL), who was elected in the 1994 Republican sweep led by Gingrich, is one of the former speaker's most outspoken critics, as is another classmate, Tom Coburn (R-OK), now in the Senate.
The less people know about Newt and his history, the more appealing is his candidacy, Scarborough said on his MSNBC TV program Morning Joe. He called Gingrich smart, articulate and energetic, but he also said the presidential hopeful's leadership skills are "deplorable" and his "ideological inconsistency" is "even more troubling." When he disagreed with conservative colleagues, the Speaker called them "extremists," "cannibals" and "jihadists."
Coburn said Gingrich had one standard of loyalty and behavior for himself and a different one for others. The two clashed frequently because Coburn thought the Speaker was moving away from the conservative principles that brought Republicans to power.
“He’s the last person I’d vote for for president of the United States … His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president,” he said.
Some of the language former House colleagues have been using – on and off the record — to describe Newt include: erratic, self-aggrandizing, unfocused, like a roller coaster, reprimanded for ethics violations, constant turmoil, impulsive, prone to sudden shifts in course, unreliable
Gingrich was pushed out of the Speakership not by voters and not by Democrats but by his own Republican colleagues; first they mounted a failed coup, then voted overwhelmingly for an ethics reprimand. All that in just four tumultuous years.
Colleagues saw his volatile and erratic behavior becoming a liability and that led to the failed 1997 coup attempt. One of the co-conspirators was Republican Conference chair John Boehner, who as Speaker today has his own worries about the loyalty of some close colleagues.
Gingrich was eventually reprimanded for ethics violations by an overwhelming vote of his colleagues in 1997 and fined $300,000 for "intentional or…reckless" disregard of House rules. He resigned the following year following a poor showing in the 1998 election, which many attributed to his penchant for controversy.
He forced government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, which he later implied were revenge for President Clinton not inviting him to talk about the budget on Air Force One on the return flight from Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in November 1995. Newt later admitted in his memoir that was his "single most avoidable mistake" as Speaker.
Colleagues complained they didn't know which direction he'd head for on any given issue.
Gingrich is now seeing the slash and burn political rhetoric he used on his enemies being turned on him by his fellow Republicans.
“He’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader,” former Missouri senator Jim Talent who served with Newt in the House and now is backing Romney.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called Gingrich “too erratic,” "a disaster as Speaker," “too self-centered” and lacking “the capacity to control himself.”
Former Rep. George Nethercutt (R., Wash.) told the Wall Street Journal, "As he gets more confident and more self-assured, he'll say something really stupid or do something really stupid or we'll find out about something really stupid, and that will doom his candidacy and doom the Republican Party."
Former colleague and former senator Trent Lott, when asked if Newt has the temperament to be president, said, "Oh, I don't know about that."
Many of those criticizing Newt today can be expected to endorse him out of party loyalty if he wins the nomination, but they make no secret they'd rather he wouldn't be the party's candidate.
Does Newt Gingrich have the temperament, the discipline, the character, the integrity and judgment for the job? Many of those who worked closely with him and know him well have serious doubts.