The confirmation Tuesday that Newt Gingrich will explore a run for president was greeted by official Washington with a mixture of indifference, excitement and a general prediction that the former Speaker can’t win.
Georgia GOP Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston said Gingrich would find healthy support in the Peach State and from the GOP Congressional delegation in which he once served. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) also reacted positively to news that Gingrich is set to open a presidential exploratory committee. But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), while welcoming Gingrich’s presence in the 2012 race, said flatly that the former Speaker would not win the GOP nomination.
“When you look at Newt, you see a person that’s bubbling over with ideas but not necessarily one who has the discipline to see those ideas carried through to finality,” said Burr, who was first elected to Congress in the 1994 Republican Revolution and served with Gingrich in the House. “Gingrich certainly brings excitement. I don’t see the former Speaker coming out of a primary contest as our nominee, but I wish him well.”
A Republican political operative based in Washington, D.C., added that Gingrich’s personal life could be a major obstacle in the primary, even as this individual described his potential candidacy as a positive development. The operative speculated that Gingrich might find some support among the large House GOP freshman class and praised his ability to generate conservative-minded proposals for addressing the nation’s pressing problems.
“I would figure many of the freshmen appreciate his abilities and credentials. But all know he has ethics liabilities and personal issues — three marriages, etc. — that run social conservatives crazy,” the GOP operative said. “Having said all of that, he is very bright, fairly conservative, with a few quirks, and we need ideas.”
Lungren indicated that Gingrich has already been reaching out to friends and former colleagues on the Hill.
“Newt’s a very good friend of mine. I saw him on swearing-in day. We were at a dinner with a large group. And after it was over he came over and said, ‘I need to talk to you because I may be coming close to a decision,’” Lungren recalled on Tuesday. “We’ve exchanged e-mails. He’s reaching out.”
One natural place for Gingrich to start in building his Hill support is the Peach State delegation.
“He has stayed in touch with the Georgia delegation, and I think he would find some ready support among the delegation,” Kingston said. “He has a big network [in the House]. ... Most people know and respect Newt. I would say it’s a rare Republican who hasn’t crossed paths with Newt Gingrich politically in their own campaigns.”
“I think he would carry the state. If he gets in the race I think he would lock down Georgia pretty quick. We’ll be with him,” Kingston added.
Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler dismissed naysayers who lauded the former Speaker’s policy acumen but questioned his electoral viability. Tyler pointed to Gingrich’s policy achievements serving as the first Republican Speaker in 40 years from 1995 to 1999, including welfare reform and the near-elimination of the budget deficit.
In noting Gingrich’s accomplishments as a Member, Tyler telegraphed what could be a campaign messaging strategy to contrast the former Speaker’s record of concrete achievement at the federal level versus his opponents’ “rhetoric” of as-yet-unfulfilled promises.
“I imagine those are the same people who thought balancing the budget was just an idea; I imagine those are the same people who thought welfare reform was just an idea,” Tyler said, in response to critics who complimented Gingrich’s contribution to Republican policy but otherwise consider him to be a political liability to the GOP.
Gingrich is scheduled to meet with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in Atlanta on Thursday, but a statement from Tyler late Tuesday said the former Speaker will not announce an exploratory committee at that time. Gingrich and Deal are set to speak to reporters following their meeting, described as a discussion about the 10th Amendment and overbearing federal regulations.
Exactly how much support Gingrich will have on Capitol Hill remains unclear.
The Republican is a nationally known media figure and prolific author whose businesses have generated millions of dollars in revenue since he left office after being deposed as Speaker following the House Republicans’ disappointing performance in the 1998 midterm elections.
He has been a regular on the GOP speaking circuit for years and is a major donor to Members through his American Solutions political action committee.
But will this professional profile translate into support in Washington and the access to political infrastructure and campaign contributions such backing could generate?
Gingrey, whose suburban Atlanta and rural Georgia 11th district includes much of Gingrich’s old House district, said he does in fact think the former Speaker is viable, including in a general election matchup with President Barack Obama. Gingrey said Gingrich deserves to be in the company of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty among the top tier of likely GOP presidential candidates.
“I definitely think he could. But I do feel that President Obama is going to be strong. ... We have to have a top-notch candidate to beat him. ... If we have the right candidate — and it could very well be Newt — we’ll beat him,” Gingrey said. “As a Republican delegation, we have not sat down and said, who are you hearing from. Newt is everywhere. He’s on all the talk shows, spoke at CPAC, he’s been to Iowa once or twice at least. So he’s like the Pawlenty, Romney and others who are really out there.”