Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s political past is starting to haunt him on the campaign trail, where several of his ex-colleagues are saying his surplus of ideas often left political messes that they had to clean up, and that this harmed the conservative cause he championed.
Reps. Peter T. King of New York and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, as well as Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri, are among the Republican lawmakers who worked with Mr. Gingrich and now warn that he lacks the leadership skills and discipline needed to be a reliable president.
“We got some things done, but we also reached the conclusion after four years that we also could not go on with him as our leader and continue accomplishing things,” Mr. Talent said during a conference call with reporters Thursday, which was orchestrated by the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Mr. Gingrich’s presidential-primary rival.
“You were in a situation where you would get up in the morning, and you would have to check the newspaper, the clippings — that was before the Internet — to see what the speaker had said that day that you were going to have to clean up after in your own district,” Mr. Talent said.
On Thursday, Mr. Gingrich said he had no plans to launch a counterattack and would stick with the positive message that has helped make him the GOP front-runner.
“My only observation is every time these guys have attacked each other, they’ve gone down,” he told the National Journal. “So I don’t know that being the attack dog in the Republican Party is necessarily an asset. … It’s not a game I’m going to play.”
The Gingrich campaign received some good news on Thursday when Quinnipiac University released a poll showing him holding double-digit leads over Mr. Romney in the key states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In Florida, Republican voters chose Mr. Gingrich over Mr. Romney by 35 percent to 22 percent. In Ohio, the poll showed Mr. Gingrich leading Mr. Romney 2-to-1, 36 percent to 18 percent. In Pennsylvania, the former speaker is in the lead with 31 percent, compared with 17 percent for Mr. Romney. No other Republican candidate cracked the 10 percent level in any of the three states.
The Quinnipiac survey also showed that Mr. Gingrich has cut sharply into President Obama’s general-election lead in hypothetical matchups, with Ohio and Florida too close to call between the two men and little Gingrich-Romney difference in Obama matchups.
“Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is no longer just the flavor of the month since his boomlet has now stretched from November into December and voting begins in Iowa in less than four weeks,” said Peter A. Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The suspension of Herman Cain’s campaign is unlikely to hurt Gingrich and might help him vis-a-vis Romney by reducing the number of candidates courting tea party voters.”
As more poll numbers suggest that Mr. Gingrich’s presidential prospects are rising, the criticisms have come harder too, including many of his former colleagues who now worry that he could win their party’s nomination.
Mr. Coburn said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that he “found his leadership lacking,” while Mr. LaTourette told the Associated Press that he still had a “hangover” from Mr. Gingrich’s reign, when “everything always seemed to be on fire.”
In an interview on CNN, Mr. King said Mr. Gingrich is “too erratic” and “too self-centered” as a leader.
“He’s a tremendously inspirational person as far as rallying troops,” he said. “But as far as governing, I think he doesn’t have the discipline. He doesn’t have the capacity to control himself. And he can’t stay focused.”
With the surging Gingrich poll numbers and such increasingly skeptical comments in recent days as a backdrop, the Romney camp held the conference call Thursday where Mr. Talent and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu offered a stinging rebuke of Mr. Gingrich’s leadership skills and the criticism he aimed earlier this year at House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed overhaul of Medicare.
“Gingrich’s undercutting of Paul Ryan proves that he is more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles,” Mr. Sununu said, alluding to Mr. Gingrich’s characterization of the plan as too “radical” and “right-wing social engineering.”
Mr. Talent said that reaction to the Ryan plan is an example of how he often says “outrageous things that come from nowhere.”
“He has a tendency to say them at exactly the time when they most undermine the conservative agenda,” he said.
Others said the former speaker was getting a raw deal. Former Rep. Christopher H. Shays of Connecticut told The Washington Times that some of the criticism leveled at Mr. Gingrich was “over the edge.”
Without Mr. Gingrich, he said, Congress wouldn’t have passed welfare reform or balanced the federal budget.
“The only two people I know who had significant impact on Washington in the sense of changing it are Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. He got a plane that hadn’t flown in 40 years to fly, and nobody thought it could,” Mr. Shays said, alluding to the lead role Mr. Gingrich played in 1994 in pushing the Republicans’ “Contract With America” and helping Republicans take control of the House for the first time in four decades.
Despite his defense of Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Shays has endorsed Mr. Romney and said he is better positioned to lead the country, putting him in line with other Republicans who served under Mr. Gingrich and applaud his smarts, but haven’t endorsed him.
Former Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware suggested that some of Mr. Gingrich’s former colleagues are wary of him because a lot of the ideas he touted never came to fruition.
“Newt is extremely bright and has a lot of ideas — a number of which are very sound about how to make government more efficient,” he said. “Unfortunately, those ideas didn’t always translate into the accomplishment of getting something done or the refining of whatever his idea might be to the point where a majority could support it.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.