Still in, Newt Gingrich is the wild card in GOP race
Newt Gingrich, who once pledged to run a 'relentlessly positive' campaign, has embarked on a scorched-earth approach to his rivals, especially Mitt Romney. Big donors give the notoriously volatile Gingrich extra staying power.
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By the time the campaign hit South Carolina, conservative critics had dubbed the Gingrich attack on Romney’s record an assault on capitalism itself, and were urging the former speaker to back off. Gingrich denied the charge and did not back down. Speaking to a business group in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, he described Romney’s business model at Bain Capital as “leverage the game, borrow the money, leave the debt behind, and walk off with all the profits,” according to a report by the Associated Press.Skip to next paragraph
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"Now, I'll let you decide if that's really good capitalism. I think it's exploitive. I think it's not defensible," Gingrich said.
By contrast, Gingrich claims that he helped to create 27 million new jobs, by virtue of serving in Congress. “You know, I worked with [President] Reagan. We helped create 16 million new jobs. I worked with Bill Clinton, as speaker of the House. We helped create 11 million new jobs,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“Those are pretty substantial things that are factually verifiable by people who want to see what the campaign is doing,” he added.
Elected to the House on his third try in 1978, Gingrich rose through the ranks on his ability to hold the public's attention.
He arrived in Washington along with the first C-SPAN television cameras, which he promptly used to launch ethics attacks from the floor against Democrats, who had run the House without a break since 1955. The attacks took a toll on the majority, especially Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, who resigned in 1989. When Republicans won the House in 1995, Gingrich was elected speaker.
Democrats attribute today's toxic atmosphere in the House to Gingrich's tactics. "Gingrich invented the politics of venom," says 16-term Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts.
After Republicans took control of the House, Gingrich pushed to make the speakership a bully pulpit comparable to that of the White House. He changed the nation's "center of gravity," said Time magazine, citing him as Man of the Year in 1995.
But his flood of new ideas, talking points, and frequent shifts in course wore on his GOP colleagues. So did unpopular clashes with President Bill Clinton over government spending and impeachment, which voters blamed on Republicans. Gingrich resigned on Nov. 5, 1998, after Republicans unexpectedly lost five House seats in the 1998 midterms.
Gingrich still inspires strong views among former GOP colleagues. On the one hand, most still credit his role in rousing a dispirited caucus to even consider the possibility of taking control of the House. "He had bold ideas," says Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a House classmate who arrived on Capitol Hill with Gingrich in 1979.
But few of Gingrich's former colleagues are backing his campaign, and some have been recruited by rival campaigns as surrogates to attack him. "Some bear grudges from the time Newt was in power," says Congressman Walker, who appeared with Gingrich in New Hampshire.
As a House member in 1997, Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma helped plan a (failed) coup to remove Gingrich as speaker. His leadership was "erratic," Senator Coburn wrote in his 2003 book, "Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders."
"His inability to discipline himself in his public comments was also a serious liability," says Coburn. "His untimely comments came across as petty and excessively partisan."
"He had a big ego; he was impulsive," says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who served with Gingrich in the House. "He's also very bright," he adds. "The big question for most of us: Has he changed?"
IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then