Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott today offered a scathing review of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's leadership, saying Gingrich is taking credit for things he didn't do--and made mistakes as a leader that badly hurt Republicans.
Lott said last year he was backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but has declined to openly criticize Gingrich, whom he calls a friend. But in an interview with CBS News, he unloaded on the former speaker, his perceived weaknesses, and his inability to lead.
Lott said he was speaking out now because he worried about the future of his grandchildren. He said he'd long assumed Gingrich wouldn't win the nomination. That changed with the former Speaker's dominant victory Saturday in South Carolina--which made the prospect real.
"He knows how to touch the right hot buttons and on the stump he's good, you gotta give him credit for that," Lott said of Gingrich. "I just don't think that's what we need in a president."
When asked whether Gingrich could win an election against Barack Obama, Lott was blunt.
"I'm sure he wouldn't, frankly," Lott said.
Lott , who was in Senate leadership when Gingrich was in leadership in the House, criticized Gingrich's style, which he said could be "over the top" and unduly personal.
Lott also mentioned Gingrich's reprimand by the House--in a bipartisan vote--for improper use of campaign funds.
"It raises questions about management style, and it raises questions about why did he wind up with the result where you get punished by your ethics committee and wind up having to step aside," Lott said. "People want to know what ended up happening there."
Lott said the Ethics Committee wouldn't have acted against him "if there weren't some real problems." He said the allegations and subsequent investigation gutted whatever hope Gingrich had to lead.
"We all make mistakes when you're in leadership, we're human beings," Lott said. "That was a very serious result and one that clearly undermined his ability to lead the House. "
Lott also said Gingrich "gets a little carried away in taking credit" and should learn to be "more modest."
He referred specifically to the balanced budget agreement, which Gingrich has indicated was his doing. Lott said it was more the result of work by Republicans Rep. John Kasich, of Ohio, and Sen. Pete Domenici, of New Mexico.
"I think maybe his assessments of his role is maybe a little bit grandiose when you actually remember what was going on when you actually were there and a part of it," Lott said of Gingrich.
Lott, who was the Republican whip in the Senate during the government shutdown, said he thought that was a "huge mistake." He said he made that point at the time--including directly to Gingrich.
"He was the leader. He was really pushing it. He said, 'We're going to do it. We can take Clinton on and we can beat him on this,'" Lott recalled. "To me it wasn't about beating Clinton, it was about getting things done without causing an uproar and a chaotic situation that was very unsettling to a lot of people. We could have gotten it done without that."
Lott said Gingrich was constantly throwing out ideas, many of which weren't grounded in reality--which made governing nearly impossible.
"Some of them are fantastic. Some of them are way over the top. Some of them are terrible. When you're having all those different ideas and you're talking about history and you're moving over here and moving over there, to most people it becomes, or it can become a distraction," Lott said. "And undermines the ability to stay focused on what your goal is."
Lott was the Republican whip for Ronald Reagan for eight years, and he says he's now struck by the number of people who try to take credit for the Reagan years--including Gingrich.
"To assert at that point that he was on the point leading that revolution, I don't think that was accurate," Lott said.
Lott also said Gingrich wasn't above playing politics inside the chamber.
"I knew he would jump over people that were next in line to be chairman of a committee, and he was pretty aggressive in some of those tactics," Lott said.