For many members of Congress, it must seem truly strange to observe the current Newt Gingrich boomlet. This is, after all, the same Gingrich who was run out of Washington 13 years ago after his party suffered a rare midterm loss that left Republicans barely hanging on to control of the House. Gingrich not only stepped aside as speaker but resigned his congressional seat. He left the chamber with his tail between his legs and did not exactly endear himself to his fellow members on the way out, calling the other congressional Republicans "hateful" and "cannibals" who blackmailed him out of office during a conference call announcing his departure. With his bombastic style, Gingrich was well set for a life of public speaking and book career far away from any other elected office.
That was the mind-set of the political class when Gingrich entered the presidential field earlier this year (especially after his entire staff fled his campaign over the summer), and yet now Gingrich has—at least for the time being—replaced Mitt Romney as the front-runner for 2012. One would expect those representatives who revolted on Gingrich—many of whom are still in Congress—to rush to the press to divert Republican voters from making the same mistake they made in 1994 when they elevated Gingrich to speaker.
Instead, they’re keeping their thoughts largely to themselves, according to Politico. The group of Republicans who ousted Gingrich in '98 are hesitant to disparage the new Tea Party favorite, and some have even switched sides and are supporting Gingrich. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey corralled support to replace Gingrich back in the day but demurred from offering comment for Politico's article. That's a strikingly different tone than earlier in the year. “It’s typical of Newt to be whimsical,” Armey told Politico in May. “We always say: Newt always has so many great ideas. Well yeah, but then he shifts between them at such a rate it’s pretty hard to track it let alone keep up with it.” Or take former Representative Bob Livingston, the Louisiana congressman whose challenge to then-Speaker Gingrich incited that harsh resignation conference call. Now Livingston has endorsed Gingrich and is raising money for his former foe.
Not all of Gingrich's former colleagues have held back. On Sunday, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn—a member of the House during Gingrich's reign—ripped into the presidential candidate on Fox News. "I’m not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich," Coburn said,
"having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership…I just found his leadership lacking and I’m not going to go into greater detail in that. And I think if you were poll the gang—the group of people that came in Congress in 1994, in which he did a wonderful job in organizing that, he’s brilliant, he has a lot of positives. But I still—it would be—I will have difficulty supporting him as president of the United States."
Coburn isn't alone in that view; if it becomes clear that Gingrich's surge is not the short-lived bubble of Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann, his former colleagues will likely start bringing those attacks out in droves to block his accession back to the top of the party.