Tom Coburn Jabs Newt Gingrich Over Presidential Ambitions

03/02/2011 12:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Elise Foley Immigration And Politics Reporter, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- As Newt Gingrich gears up for a possible 2012 presidential bid, he won't have the backing of Sen. Tom Coburn, a leading figure among conservative Republicans and primary voters. Coburn said on Wednesday the former House speaker is too divisive to lead the country.

"He is undoubtedly the smartest man I've ever met. He has a great vision," Coburn (R-Okla.), who served under Gingrich in the House, told CSPAN's "Washington Journal." "The question to me is does he have the capability to lead the country. ... We need somebody that's soft and [eyes-wide] open and is stable and learned and is going to consistently bring us together."

Coburn did not go into detail on his problems with Gingrich, but in the past he has questioned whether Gingrich's personal life reflects conservative values. The twice-divorced Gingrich has admitted to infidelity, including an extra-marital affair that took place while he was investigating then-President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"He's the last person I'd vote for for president of the United States," Coburn said at a town hall meeting last August. "His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president."

Other Republicans have also put a damper on Gingrich's presidential ambitions. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told reporters on Monday that "there was a place and time for [Gingrich]," and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he does not think Gingrich can win the nomination.

"When you look at Newt, you see a person that's bubbling over with ideas but not necessarily one who has the discipline to see those ideas carried through to finality," Burr told Roll Call. "Gingrich certainly brings excitement. I don't see the former Speaker coming out of a primary contest as our nominee, but I wish him well."

A college student questioned Gingrich about his personal life at an event in February, calling him hypocritical for opposing gay rights while not exemplifying "family values."

Gingrich has attempted to downplay his personal life. "I've had a life which, on occasion, has had problems," Gingrich said at the February event. "I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that's their primary concern. If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant. If the primary concern of the American people is the future... that's a debate I'll be happy to have with your candidate or any other candidate if I decide to run."

With a wide-open GOP field, Coburn declined on Wednesday to say who he would support for the Republican nominee, but laid out some of the qualities he is looking for.

"What we need is a heartfelt leader who will help those who are less within the confines of the enumerated power and tell us the truth about the very real problems we face and bring us together," he said.