Newt Gingrich's Senior Team Resigns Amid Conflicting Opinions About Campaign's Direction

Presidential contender faces major setback as longtime aides resign.

ByABC News
June 9, 2011, 3:54 PM

June 9, 2011— -- Several key aides to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, including his campaign manager, resigned from his team today because of conflicting opinions about the direction of the campaign, multiple sources told ABC News.

His former spokesman, Rick Tyler, who was part of that group, told ABC News that he and "the senior leadership team of the campaign" left largely because their candidate refused to campaign aggressively.

The senior leaders include Tyler, campaign manager Rob Johnson -- both of whom have been with Team Gingrich for years -- senior strategists Sam Dawson and Dave Carney, South Carolina consultant Katon Dawson, and Iowa consultant Craig Schoenfeld.

"We had a fundamental difference of opinion about the direction of the campaign," Tyler said, specifically about "whether Newt's schedule would allow him to spend enough time in the states he needs to win."

A source in the Gingrich campaign acknowledged to ABC News that the Gingrich campaign is in "big" debt but declined to disclose the figure.

The Des Moines Register reported that Gingrich's entire team of paid campaign staff in Iowa had also resigned. Craig Schoenfeld, the Iowa executive director of Newt 2012, told the newspaper he and others lacked confidence that Gingrich would invest time in fundraising and campaigning in the key state.

Gingrich responded to the resignations on his Facebook page, writing, "I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles."

The campaign began to unravel when the story emerged in early May that the Gingrichs' held up to half a million dollars in debt with high-end jeweler Tiffany and Co., a source close to the campaign told ABC News.

A financial disclosure form filed by Callista Gingrich for years 2006 and 2007 revealed that she had liabilities ranging in the amount of $250,001 to $500,000. When pressed about that line of credit, Gingrich declined to comment on the line of credit, only saying that it was his private life.

Things took a turn for the worse when Gingrich, whose campaign got off to a rocky start, went on a vacation to the Greek Isles with his wife. He took two weeks off from campaigning, including skipping an important social conservative conference attended by every other presidential candidate, claiming it was his previously scheduled "time off."

The decision shocked much of his staff.

Gingrich "lacked the discipline" and "was not willing to work hard enough" to raise the money needed for a presidential level campaign, a former campaign staffer said, and even though he has a long track record of straying off message and off topic, his aides thought he had changed his ways.

His staff, one source said, would have quit while he was away, but decided as a group, "You don't quit while your candidate is out of the country. You quit to his face."

Tyler told ABC News the former House speaker's recent cruise to Greece "wasn't helpful."

Tyler said he admired Gingrich and thinks he'd make "a terrific president."

"Key people were going to leave," but Tyler "held out hope we could change direction. I want him to do what it takes to win."

Ultimately, the team could not prevail upon Gingrich to do that, Tyler said.

Gingrich was made aware of the resignations earlier today, according to the Associated Press, which first broke the news.

The former staffers are already finding a home at other campaigns. Gingrich's ex-national campaign co-chair and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue will join Tim Pawlenty's national team, the campaign announced this afternoon.