Judging by his four-year tenure as Speaker, Republicans could have plenty to worry about in 2012 if Newt Gingrich wins their party's presidential nomination.
Even ardent Gingrich supporters concede he would begin a general election against President Barack Obama at a political disadvantage in terms of electability given his cemented image as a radioactive partisan. Other Republicans with fond memories of his 1995-1999 stint as Speaker acknowledge that the chaotic, undisciplined leadership style they experienced could present obstacles to winning the White House.
"Newt's biggest deficiency is he lacks discipline," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who served in the House when Gingrich was Speaker.
Gingrich as Speaker — and since then, some critics would argue — opined on any subject that struck his fancy, often changed directions after convincing the Republican Conference to support a particular political message, was viewed as a micromanager who had trouble delegating and who lacked organizational skills, and was tagged as arrogant, divisive and unlikable outside the GOP base. As a well-known public figure, Gingrich would have to work to undo this last definition in particular.
Republicans sympathetic to Gingrich downplay these charges as well as the notions that they helped sink his speakership prematurely or that they would be problematic if the Republican icon were to become president. But they do not deny the trouble such shortcomings could cause for Gingrich in a presidential campaign against the more disciplined Obama, who is expected to spend close to $1 billion to defeat the eventual Republican nominee.
"He has an opinion and thought on every issue and hasn't yet learned how to not comment on every issue," said a former senior aide to Gingrich. "He's on top now, but I don't expect him to stay there."
Gingrich's lack of discipline in his response to questions was on display early in his presidential bid, such as when he criticized the budget plan of tea party darling Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). And questions about his seriousness as a candidate were cited by staffers who left his campaign in droves in June in part because Gingrich decided to take a Mediterranean cruise with his wife instead of campaigning in key primary states, as his advisers had counseled.
Among the harshest critics of Gingrich's speakership, and what it might portend for the GOP if he wins the nomination or the presidency, are Republican Members who served under him in the House. Although most credit him for engineering the House takeover in 1994 and subsequent legislative policy victories, they deride his leadership style as heavy-handed, hypocritical and damaging to the party over the long term.