Washington (CNN) – South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham was so fed up with Newt Gingrich's leadership as speaker in the 1990s, he helped organize a coup attempt and even held meetings about it in his Capitol office when he was a member of the House.
But now, Senator Graham tells CNN he believes Gingrich – who last week won the South Carolina primary in a landslide – has "mellowed," and even says he is "electable" and believes he would make a good president.
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"I know Newt's baggage. So does everybody in the country. But there is no better messenger for the conservative cause than Newt," said Graham.
A day earlier, Graham's close friend Sen. John McCain, who has endorsed Mitt Romney, told reporters he believes Gingrich is unelectable – saying Gingrich's "leadership style was a major factor in giving him lack of support for re-election as speaker."
In a brief interview with Graham in his Senate office Thursday, he not only split with McCain about the presidential race – he brought up the fact that people questioned McCain's temperament when he was running for president four years ago.
"Well, I've heard that about John," Graham said, speaking of McCain.
"I've heard people say that John was too unsteady to be President," he said.
"All I would say is I know Newt, I know John. I didn't think the criticism of John was fair and I don't think the criticism of Newt is fair," said Graham.
Graham was first elected to Congress in 1994, the year Republicans took the House under Gingrich's leadership.
"I drank the Kool-Aid. I was a Contract with America baby," said Graham, talking about the 1994 reform plan Republicans ran and won on that year.
Though few Republicans who served under Gingrich in the House will criticize him publicly, many do so privately, and few GOP House members during the Gingrich era or who are now serving have endorsed him. Many have endorsed Romney.
Graham's positive words about Gingrich came just as former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who served alongside Gingrich in the 1990s, wrote a scathing open letter ripping Gingrich as a "one man band" who, as GOP nominee, would result in a "landslide victory for Obama and a crushing defeat for Republicans from the courthouse to the White House."
Graham says he believes Gingrich has changed.
"He seems to be not so full of himself. Confident – but not to a fault," said Graham.
"He's reaching out to people. I think he understands how sobering it would be to be president."
Graham conceded that Gingrich, at times, "was very volatile, erratic," and said he made a "lot of mistakes."
But Graham says now, looking back, he realizes that leading is "a lot harder than I thought."
"What he had to do, lead a revolution and govern at the same time, I appreciate more today than I did then. We were too hard on him. But he, again, made plenty of mistakes," said Graham.
"Being a backbencher throwing bombs because you're not pure is a lot of fun, but governing the country is a lot harder," he said.
The South Carolina Republican said he believes the country now needs someone like Gingrich to "embrace big ideas and take political risks"
"The one thing about Newt that is compelling is that I don't think he looks at politics in terms of the next election cycle. He looks at politics as a generational issue," said Graham.
Graham insisted he is not endorsing Gingrich, and says he believes Romney is "eminently electable" as well.
"Winning is my primary goal," he said.
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I heard Newt's first radio attack ad on Gator Country radio in Ft. Myers. Newt labeled his opponent as Murky Mitt. That Newt is a hoot.
Gingrich lied? I'm shocked. SHOCKED!
(with apologies to Casablanca)
Graham is about as relevant as melting ice in a southern tea glass.
This is how a mellow Newt behaves? I think Lindsay Graham should be drug tested immediately.
Are the right wing teavangelical baggers really buying into Mittens' answer to the immigration problem, self deportation?
There is a saying" A thief will always be a thief"
You can't change a tiger's stripes. When fellow republicans who have worked with him say he should not be president, that's good enough for me.
Newt for President!!, Yeah Right!
Bob Dole has always been a reasonable leader within the GOP. He is an old-time conservative, i.e. a real conservative, and not one of the blathering rightwing drama queens that infest today's [R] party. Good old Bob and good old Ronnie R. would both be labeled as RINOs today and mustered out of the [R] party by the likes of Limbaugh and all his mindless minions.
Gingrich is walking around with a live grenade in his belly. Dole knows it, McCain knows it, all the [R]s know it. Here's the thing: [R]s are so stupid that they not only ignore it, but they support this dimwitted wanna-be intellectual IN SPITE of it. You [R]etards can pull the pin now yourselves, or wait and the [D]s will do it for you, at just the right moment, so the maximum amount of festering innards hit the maximum amount of you rightwing clowns while your mouths are open.
Sorry have to disagree, the man has not changed. He is not electable, he scores big in the eyes of those who think he can carry their hate and anger to Obama. They would be in for a big surprise, he is not the debater he and others think he is. Romney wiped the floor with him in FL debate. In all reality the guy has never really done great in any debate except SC when he threw the red meat bomb to audience. He was playing his far right crowd. He is a showman, snake oil salesman and a corrupt politician. They ate it up, then voted for him. All debates should be quiet ones like FL so the viewers can concentrate on the questions and answers not game show atmosphere. CNN will probably let this B.S. go on for ratings. the longer they can keep the primary going they make money. If Romney has taken SC then FL the game would be over till fall. Why do you think Newt got 5 times as much TV time as any other candidate, they are nor pro Newt just want money and ratings and they could not let Newt die on the vine(where he should have).
Thanks, Lindsey Graham standing for Newt
from what I can read there are just as many Republicans against Newt as almost Democrats. And what happened to that right wing religious moral society, huh? They sure seem quiet now.
Al Capone just endorsed Lucky Luciano- how nice for us
that's right...fall in line like a good boy!
ha ha ha ha ha - he revels in the hate-mongering and the anger. If this is the New Newt, I don't want EITHER NEWT.
Well said packeryman. I couldn't agree more.
Oh yeah? Lindsay hears the same "southern dog whistles" that newt hears and sends out.
Is Sen. Graham really saying he could now support Mr. Gingrich? Does he really believe he has mellowed? Where has he been for the last few weeks. Mr. Gingrich continues to believe that he has all the answers and can change those answers as often as he wants. He does believe he is intellectually superior to all of us.
Lindsay..... words are cheap. Actions speak much louder.
No wonder conservatives hate Lindsey Graham, since he speaks the truth. Too bad the rest of the GOP has not had this little revelation
Graham still has a case of Repub koolaid in his cellar,right next to the wacky tabacky ,he grows.He and Haley are so much alike,want to make me throw up,is she his love child or what...Graham is such a screwed up born again Christian,says one thing,does another.Typical hypocritical lip service from someone that really doesn't do anything,period.McCain is senile,Graham is stupid,plan and simple.They're like locusts,only out once every 4years,THANK GOD....
Lindsey Graham just wants to be vice president!
"...there is no better messenger for the conservative cause than Newt" As if we needed anyone else to convey the fact that the conservative cause is crap.
"There is a saying" A thief will always be a thief"
But enough about Mitt R-money.