Wisconsin Senate hopeful’s relationship with Gingrich typifies a complex speakership
By Aaron Blake,
Former Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mark Neumann says his relationship with Newt Gingrich is positively Dickensian.
As in: His two terms in Congress under Speaker Gingrich were the best of times and the worst of times.
With Gingrich now a top-tier candidate for the White House and Neumann seeking the Republican nominationin for the Badger State’s open Senate seat, the two men could soon be thrust into the GOP’s effort to reclaim both. And teamwork hasn’t always come easy for the two.
Republican presidential candidate and former House speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at Tommy's Ham House in Greenville , S.C., last week. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
Neumann typifies conservative hesitation toward Gingrich’s presidential campaign — particularly among those in the GOP who have spent years either as Gongrich’s colleagues, rivals or something in between. And, like most of that group, Neumann is hopeful that Gingrich succeeds even as he clearly holds reservations about the former House speaker.
“Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man,” Neumann said in an interview with The Fix. “If you ask me, intellectually, does he have the knowledge and the wherewithal to lead the United States of America, I would definitely answer that question, yes. There are some other parts, obviously, as a conservative that I’m not enthused about.”
Neumann and Gingrich have a long — and, at times, rocky — history.
Neumann was one of nine Republicans to vote against Gingrich for speaker in 1997. Of that vote, Nuemann says that “there was a reason for it; I just don’t remember off the top of my head.” Uh huh.
Under Gingrich’s leadership, Neumann, a self-acknowledgded rabble rouser (more on that here in this lengthy 1996 New York Times piece), was removed from the high-profile Appropriations committee — before eventually being reinstated.
Neumann declined to elaborate on the specifics of his clashes with Gingrich. But Neumann led the equivalent of a tea party faction of freshmen from the Class of 1994, and that meant clashing with leadership regularly.
Overall, Neumann says he and Gingrich “got along very well”. Gingrich has had very nice things to say about Neumann, at one point calling him “an absolute prophet on balancing budgets, brilliant and idealistic.”
But there is also something that is preventing him from wrapping his arms fully around the Gingrich candidacy.
Asked whether Gingrich has the character to be president, Neumann paused and then said: “That’s a different issue, a different discussion. I think probably, yes.”
He then quickly added: “That’s not an endorsement of Newt Gingrich, but if you’re asking me, if he is our nominee, will I back Newt Gingrich, the answer is definitely, yes, and without reservation.”
In the end, Neumann’s posture towards Gingrich is wholly reminiscent of others who have dealt with the sepaker — be it Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) or MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) — and offered some pretty uncertain reviews of him.