Though presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was the mastermind of the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, some of those who worked with him as speaker of the House have expressed doubts about his leadership abilities.
“There was a lot of frustration” with Gingrich during his reign as speaker, according to Doug Koopman, professor of political science at Calvin College, in a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post.
Besides his academic work on Republicans in Congress, Koopman was a congressional staffer and worked with Gingrich on the Republican platform in 1994, known as the "Contract With America," and for a short time after Gingrich became speaker.
The Republican victories in 1994 would be the first time that Republicans held control of both houses of Congress since the 1950s. House Republicans rewarded Gingrich's leadership by electing him speaker of the House. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Joe Scarborough, two of those Republicans who were first elected in 1994 recently said that Gingrich does not have the temperament needed to lead the country as president.
“I'm not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership,” Coburn said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Coburn was reluctant to share his reasons for not supporting Gingrich. When pressed further, Coburn added, “The thing is, there's all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence. Leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they're leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking and I'm not going to go into greater detail on that.”
Coburn also suggested that others who were first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 shared his view. On Tuesday morning, this was confirmed by Joe Scarborough.
Scarborough, who is now the host of MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” was more forthright in his criticism. “He is not a nice human being. He is a bad person when it comes to demonizing opponents,” Scarborough said on the Tuesday episode of his show.
Scarborough mentioned that Gingrich had recently compared Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, to Joseph Stalin, and the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party.
Scarborough later clarified that he does not know Gingrich personally and was only referring to his public persona when he called him a “bad person.”
Scarborough and Coburn both praised Gingrich for his skilled leadership during the 1994 elections. Koopman agreed.
“Newt has always been a very good strategist about how to get to a place, and I think the Contract With America is one of those examples,” Koopman said.
However, the type of leadership needed to win elections did not translate well, with Gingrich, to the type of leadership needed to govern, according to Koopman.
Gingrich is “a very good strategic thinker about how to get somewhere, but then sort of leading and managing over the long haul, outside the dynamic of a campaign, I think that is more problematic [for Gingrich].”
Some of the frustration with Gingrich stemmed from his erratic behavior. “He would want to change strategy at the last minute. He would lay out a plan and then the plan would change in two or three days, and that would frustrate people, both at the staff level and at the member level, because you feel you're wasting your time, or you just put in a lot of effort for a project that is now no longer going to be a priority of the leader,” Koopman said.
Frustration with Gingrich also stemmed from the fact that “he is a self-focused individual, it's about him being in charge,” and that can conflict with other members of Congress “who also have their own egos and own desire to be independent leaders as well,” Koopman explained.
Scarborough said that he maintains contact with about 15 others who were part of Republican revolution in 1994, including Coburn, and they all worry that nominating Gingrich would harm the party. “Privately they're sending me emails all the time saying, how many times does Newt have to teach these people he's bad for the conservative movement?”
Not all Republicans from the class of 1995 are opposed to Gingrich's candidacy, however. Greg Ganske, who represented Iowa's fourth district from 1995 to 2002, now chairs Gingrich's Iowa campaign team.