In advance of today’s primary, the Republican establishment has gone into overdrive to convince Florida voters that Newt Gingrich is a faux-conservative, ethically challenged has-been. The collective Republican panic has been fun to watch, not least because some of the GOP all-stars condemning Newt are best known for their own ethical lapses and heated rhetoric. Here’s a rundown of some of the Republican leaders calling the kettle unpresidential.
Jack Abramoff. When asked on Meet the Press about Freddie Mac’s million-dollar payout to Gingrich for “strategic counseling” services, Abramoff warned against “People who come to Washington who have public service and they cash in on it. And they use their public service and their access to make money, and unfortunately Newt Gingrich is one of them who have done it… He is doing and engaging in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains.” Abramoff should know: In 2006, he pled guilty to mail fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion in a scheme to bilk money from Indian tribes that had hired him to lobby on behalf of their casinos. He was released in 2010 and has since released a memoir detailing his crime.
Tom Delay. The former House member hammered Gingrich in the press last week, saying that the presidential hopeful is “not really a conservative.” “He’ll tell you what you want to hear,” DeLay told a radio host. “He has an uncanny ability, sort of like [Bill] Clinton, to feel your pain and know his audience and speak to his audience and fire them up. When he was speaker, he was erratic, undisciplined.” Delay certainly has experience with Gingrich, having served as the Majority Whip when Gingrich was House Speaker. He’s also no stranger to controversy: He was convicted in 2010 on money laundering charges for funneling corporate money to help and elect Republican candidates to the Texas legislature.
John H. Sununu. The former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to George H.W. Bush defended Romney’s decision to not release his tax returns, turning the tables on Gingrich. “Newt has a serious problem with the package that the Ethics committee had when they fined him $300,000,” he told CNN. “Ring out the laundry. That's more important than anything else.” During his own White House tenure, however, Sununu went whole hog in his personal abuse of federal resources for private gain, amassing a record of ethics breaches that included using Air Force jets for skiing trips and dentist appointments, and using a White House limousine to attend a posh stamp auction.
Trent Lott. “We don't need a good speech,” Lott told CBS in a discussion about the Gingrich-Romney race. “We don't need a good debater, we don’t need rhetorical passion." When asked if Gingrich would beat Obama in the general election, he said, “I’m sure he wouldn’t, frankly.” But Lott of all people should know the perils of poor speeches. In 2002, at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, Lott suggested that if Thurmond had won the presidency that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Lott’s after-the-fact endorsement of Thurmond, who as a presidential candidate famously remarked that Washington “cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches and our places of recreation,” prompted his immediate resignation as Senate Minority Leader.
Dick Armey. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who served alongside Gingrich during the Republican Revolution of the 1990’s, had unkind words about the candidate for Politico. “It’s typical of Newt to be whimsical,” he said, adding that Gingrich “just annoys [leadership] because, I think, with Newt it’s the fear that somebody might listen to him.” Evidently it takes whim to know whim: Armey provoked outrage in 1995 when he referred to openly gay congressman Barney Frank as “Barney Fag” during an interview and then tried to walk it back by saying that he had “trouble with alliteration.”
Steve LaTourette. The Representative from Ohio recently observed that Gingrich “is a little bit like a sober Charlie Sheen. He just kind of shouts stuff out.” It seems that LaTourette only has patience for moral failings when they are deliberate and painfully drawn out. In a 2004 poll of staffers on Capitol Hill, he won the title “No Altar Boy” for leaving his wife of 21 years for a lobbyist with whom he was having an affair. Neither his insensitivity nor his blunt criticism of a fellow Republican comes as a surprise, though. Addressing transit advocates last year, he referred to some of his Tea Party freshmen colleagues as “knuckledraggers… that hate taxes.”
Peter King. The New York Congressman has a longstanding and vocal opposition to Newt Gingrich, at one point describing him as having an “attitude that appeals to the mentality of hillbillies at revival meetings.” The same assessment could be leveled against King himself, whose statements about Muslim-Americans are often teeming with the kind of Islamophobic fear-mongering hardly appropriate for the halls of Congress. Some of his more egregious statements come from a 2004 interview with Sean Hannity where King claims that “there are too many mosques in this country.”
Ann Coulter. The conservative commentator took to her blog last week to bash Gingrich with an entry titled, “Re-elect Obama! Vote Newt!” She concluded with the line, “Hotheaded arrogance is neither conservative nor attractive to voters.” As for Coulter herself, hotheaded might be an understatement: She’s called Barack Obama's memoir a “Dimestore Mein Kampf” and used an anti-gay epithet against John Edwards, among her countless tirades.
Nick Robins-Early, Simon Meiners, Eric Wen, and Perry Stein are interns at The New Republic.