The resistance to Gingrich’s surge is based on his reputation for unpredictabilty and a recognition that the success of Republican congressional campaigns will be inextricably linked to the party’s nominee.
One GOP strategist, Mike Murphy, this week described the potential of a Gingrich nomination as a “train wreck,” while Tom Davis, a former House campaign chairman, worries that Gingrich at the top of the ticket could be a drag on the party’s congressional chances, particularly in the Northeast.
Gingrich’s fiery speeches have energized some conservative voters on the campaign trail. But his tumultuous tenure in Congress has many Republicans fearing that his presidential campaign could jolt House and Senate candidates off their message of shrinking federal spending and blaming Obama for an economic malaise.
“The formulation of your message and the discipline with which you deliver it becomes much more important when you’re on a national stage every day,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the newly elected message chief for the Senate GOP and a backer of Gingrich’s top rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. “I do think that it’s going to be critical to our overall effort, if we’re going to be successful in both House and Senate campaigns next year, to be able to have a coherent message and one which is very much synced up with our nominee.”
With the economic recovery struggling to take hold, House Republicans had hoped to consolidate their gains from the 2010 midterm elections, aiming to return in 2013 with a conference close to its current size of 242. Senate Republicans, needing just four seats to claim the majority, are in a strong position because Democrats are defending 23 seats and have several key incumbents retiring. Republicans are defending only 10 seats.
“He’s an idea guy, and a lot of his ideas are good and some of them are wacko. So he’s the kind of guy that needs to be involved somehow — I just don’t think he needs to be the leader,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a seven-term congressman who recently endorsed Romney.
According to data compiled by Roll Call, Romney has secured 56 endorsements from congressional Republicans, while Gingrich has eight.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), who was one of Gingrich’s lieutenants after the GOP won control of the House in 1994, would say only that Gingrich is “a friend.”
At a policy forum Wednesday sponsored by Politico, Boehner stressed differences between his background as a small-business man and Gingrich’s as a college professor.