Because of that history, Dole could not afford to create any daylight between himself and the speaker on either issues or tactics. When the budget negotiations with Clinton deteriorated, Dole was one of the victims and was later tied to Gingrich in Democratic ads that savaged the Republicans.
“In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad,” Dole wrote Thursday. “He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year.”
With fears that the party’s House majority was in jeopardy that fall, Dole again watched helplessly as the Republican National Committee aired television ads on the final weekend of the campaign designed to protect that majority at the expense of its presidential candidate.
Dole’s relationship with Gingrich, like those of many in the party, is not one-dimensional. He and Gingrich were able to work together on many things. When Gingrich was reprimanded by the House and fined $300,000, Dole stepped forward to offer to lend the money to Gingrich. The former speaker ended up paying off the money with other funds, but the gesture was significant, given their complex relationship.
What is fascinating about the Republican race is that, in a matter of days and weeks, it has turned from the question of whether a stop-Romney movement would materialize to the reality that a stop-Gingrich movement now has taken shape.
The lines are tangled in this battle. Some former House colleagues have gone after Gingrich, others have stood by him. The fight for Ronald Reagan’s legacy has divided old Reaganites. Some belittle Gingrich’s claim that he was a key lieutenant in the Reagan revolution or his rightful heir among the GOP candidates. Others see him as the political leader who helped translate Reagan’s success into a congressional majority.
Those who underestimate Gingrich today were many of the same people who underestimated him as he crashed his way into the upper ranks of the party more than two decades ago. He may resent what the establishment is doing to him now, but he also may welcome the attacks as ratification that he remains a threat to established order.
Gingrich may lose this battle, and he could damage himself in the process. But he will not go quietly, and his old friends and enemies in the party know it.