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Santorum and Gingrich Share Complicated Past

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty
From left: Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich take part in a debate Monday.

Gingrich kept his support quiet, but he was encouraging. He autographed a front-page USA Today story lauding the gang's reform efforts for each of the Members. Former Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Calif.), another member of the group, still remembers every word he wrote in the margin: "Change takes courage and effort. Keep up the good work. Newt."

"I have mixed feelings," Riggs said. "Rick showed a lot of courage in bringing the matter to light. ... On the other hand, Newt has a long history of basically pushing, pressing for fundamental reform."

As Rubbergate gained traction, Gingrich got onboard more publicly. He attended a fundraiser at the American Legion on Capitol Hill to support the gang of seven. Eventually, Gingrich took the lead among GOP leadership in beating the drum for an audit of the House bank on the floor.

"On the night where we had the key vote, [Gingrich] made the speech that summed everything up instead of the Minority Leader," former Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) said, referring to then-Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Ill.). "I think [Gingrich] and Santorum were friends throughout that time."

Santorum needed Gingrich a key ally in GOP leadership to back his reform efforts. But Gingrich needed Santorum and the gang of seven to kick-start his campaign for the Speaker's gavel. Rubbergate became one of House Republicans' key arguments, along with Gingrich's "Contract With America," that helped remove Democrats from power in the historic 1994 elections.

But many years later on the campaign trail, the relationship between Santorum and Gingrich is hardly symbiotic. As Gingrich soars in national polls ahead of Tuesday's Florida primary, Santorum is fading and continues to fight for relevance in the race.

As a result, the two Republicans and their supporters squabbled over taking credit for their Congressional accomplishments. In last week's South Carolina debate, Santorum charged that Gingrich knew about the House banking scandal for years before it became public.

"You knew about it for 10 or 15 years because you told me you knew about it," Santorum shot at Gingrich during the Jan. 19 debate. "And you did nothing because you didn't have the courage to stand up to your own leadership."

Former gang of seven members dispute Santorum's recollection of this. Gingrich's supporters said that if he knew about the check-kiting scandal earlier, he would have used it against Democrats already.

Instead, Gingrich's supporters portray Santorum as his protégé, saying Gingrich is someone without whom the gang of seven and Santorum's political career could not have flourished.

"It was Newt's whip team that put together the so-called gang of seven," said former Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pa.), a Gingrich backer. "We on the whip team gave them a lot of staff support, helped them attack the House bank scandal."

Walker said Santorum used Gingrich's Conservative Opportunity Society platform as the basis of his first House campaign. Santorum also ran his uphill bid for Senate based on Gingrich's Contract With America, he recalled.

In 1995, Santorum was sworn into the Senate and Gingrich became Speaker. But they continued to cross paths through their work on welfare reform.

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