Mitt Romney lost the South Carolina primary to Newt Gingrich by a double digit margin. But in the race for congressional endorsements, the former Massachusetts governor is way ahead of the ex-Speaker of the House.
Romney, who has never held a seat on Capitol Hill, has nevertheless racked 72 endorsements to Gingrich’s nine.
Why are GOP lawmakers so reluctant to support their former colleague? Here are a few of the likely reasons.
Gingrich has been married three times, a fact that rankles some of his more traditional colleagues.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma spoke for many conservative Republicans in August 2010 when he said Gingrich is “the last person I'd vote for for president of the United States.”
He won’t back his former colleague because “his life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president.” Coburn was first elected to the House in 1994 as Gingrich became speaker.
Coburn is also one of many former House GOP lawmakers who has criticized Gingrich’s management skills.
"I'm not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich's having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership," the Oklahoma Republican told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace in December of last year. "I found it lacking often times."
“It was leadership by chaos,” said Rep. Susan Molinari last week during a conference call in support of Romney. Molinari was one of 20 Republican House members who staged an unsuccessful coup against Gingrich in 1997. The following year, under the cloud of an ethics investigation, the Georgia congressman gave up his leadership position and decided not to run for reelection.
“Newt Gingrich was a disaster as speaker,” said New York Rep. Peter King last month. “Everything was self-centered. There was a lack of intellectual discipline.” King has already thrown his support behind Romney.
Since leaving the House, Gingrich has made millions as an advisor to companies. Although he vehemently denies that this constituted lobbying, Gingrich’s explanation has been called into doubt by conservative commentators, politicians supporting Romney, and even disgraced Republican uberlobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Gingrich was “engaged in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains,” Abramoff said in a November interview to promote his new book. “This is exactly what I’m talking about: people who came to Washington, who had public service, and they cash in on it. They use their public service and access to make money, and unfortunately Newt Gingrich is one of those who’s done it.”
Some GOP lawmakers may not want to be seen cozying up to a candidate who for some embodies Washington influence peddling.
Politicians’ personal opinions of Gingrich only matter so much. Many lawmakers have gotten campaign contributions from groups supporting Romney and these politicians want to show them — and other potential donors — that they appreciate the support.
Ambitious, methodical candidates like Romney often give thousands of dollars to other lawmakers in the hopes that they will return the favor. Take, for example, Rick Santorum’s endorsement of Romney in 2008 — a favor that he no doubt now wishes he could take back. Two years earlier, when Santorum was in the midst of a hard-fought reelection campaign, Romney’s leadership political action committee donated $10,000 to the Pennsylvania senator.
Gingrich is at a disadvantage in this regard because he has less money to work with. He has raised far less than Romney and the outside groups supporting him have spent significantly less.