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Posted at 1:31 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Tom Coburn: Not a Newt Fan

By Rachel Weiner

In an interview with CSPAN's "Washington Journal" program this morning, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn questioned whether former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would be a strong presidential candidate for the party in 2012.

Asked about Gingrich's plans to explore a presidential bid, Coburn responded:

"He is undoubtedly the smartest man I've ever met. He is a thinker. He has great vision, The question to me is, does he have the capability to lead the country? And having served under him in the House, he is probably not one that I would choose to support in a presidential primary."

Asked to elaborate, Coburn said that the party's nominee needed to be someone who is "stable, and learned, and is gonna consistently bring us together rather than alienate us," adding: "We need somebody whose eye is critical, but is not harsh in their manner."

A Gingrich spokesman did not return several emails seeking comment on Coburn's remarks.

It isn't the first time Coburn, a beloved figure among conservatives, has come out against Gingrich.

At a town hall last August, the senator told attendees" "He's the last person I'd vote for for president of the United States ... His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president." Coburn also criticized Gingrich's tumultuous personal life, saying he "doesn't know anything about commitment to marriage."

Gingrich has been married three times. He was directly questioned about those marriages last week during a speech at the University of Pennsylvania. Asked by a student, who also happened to be the head of the university's college Democrats, whether his personal life made his opposition to gay marriage hypocritical, Gingrich responded sarcastically: "I appreciate the delicacy and generosity in the way [the question] was framed. ... I hope you feel better about yourself."

Coburn's animosity towards Gingrich goes back years. In 1996, he was part of a group of House Republicans who unsuccessfully tried to oust Gingrich as Speaker. "Newt Gingrich should resign," Coburn said not long after. (Coburn got his wish two years later as Gingrich stepped aside in the wake of Republican losses in the 1998 midterm elections. The Oklahoma Republican was elected to the Senate in 2004.)

The timing of Coburn's comments are not ideal for Gingrich -- coming roughly 24 hours before the former Speaker is expected to give some indication of whether he plans to explore a presidential bid in 2012.

That announcement -- or lack thereof -- has already drawn considerable unwanted attention to Gingrich. After Joe Gaylord, a longtime adviser to Gingrich, confirmed to the Des Moines Register that Gingrich would indeed be announcing an exploratory phase in Georgia on Thursday, Gingrich's official spokesman put out a statement rebutting what he called a "significantly inaccurate statement" --adding that there would be no exploratory committee announced Thursday. (ABC's Jon Karl explains what might be going on with all of this.)

And, Gingrich got even more unwelcome news earlier today when Fox News Channel suspended him as an on-air contributor, along with former Sen. Rick Santorum, and announced they will terminate Gingrich's contract if he launches a presidential bid.

All presidential campaigns have their rocky patches. But the combination of Coburn's comments, the very public infighting in Gingrich's inner circle and Fox News' suspension decision make this a less than ideal runup to a national bid for the Georgia Republican.

By Rachel Weiner  | March 2, 2011; 1:31 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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