Regardless of their actual feelings, politicians tend to praise their colleagues in public as a matter of decorum, especially those in the same political party.
That’s why it was so surprising when former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who served 10 years in the Senate and 6 years in the House of Representatives before retiring in January 2015, offered up candidly negative comments about the 2016 Republican presidential field.
In an interview with conservative commentator Andrew Wilkow last week, Coburn trashed nearly every GOPer running for president, calling them “not ready for primetime,” lacking “integrity,” not “capable,” and saying he wouldn’t support one of them even if he won the nomination. Wilkow acknowledged the impact of Coburn’s words, noting that “once you retire, you can speak your mind in a way that might be different than if you were still sitting in the Senate.”
Listen to the interview, with the relevant portion beginning at 5:43:
Here are Coburn’s individual takes on the Republican presidential candidates (emphases added):
Rand Paul: “Scares me to death on international foreign policy. Know him well, very smart. Think he was totally wrong on NSA. Didn’t speak truthfully about what was actually the facts. Would not vote for him for president.”
Marco Rubio: “Of all that are out there right now, probably my favorite.”
Scott Walker: “Not ready for primetime, in my opinion. You look at what happened in Wisconsin in terms of him beating the recall and everything else, he didn’t do that. The Republicans around the country did it for him. They pulled him out of the fire. I just don’t think he’s quite ready for primetime, in my opinion.”
Ben Carson: “I have a personal bone to pick with him on integrity that I witnessed. He made a commitment at the Prayer Breakfast not to attack the president. The speech was nothing but an attack on the president. The people who organized the Prayer Breakfast asked him not to do that. He said he would not, and then he went out and did it.”
George Pataki: “Probably smart enough, but would never encounter the votes. Nor does he have the conservative fiscal credentials or other credentials he would need to have a coalition behind him, in my opinion.”
Rick Perry: “Good guy. I don’t think he’s capable at that level.”
Lindsey Graham: “Love him, but he’s right in the middle, so I don’t see how he builds a coalition. I think his effort is try to talk about foreign policy and that’s what he ought to stick to.”
Carly Fiorina: “Smart lady. I helped her in her Senate campaign of which she was ultimately unsuccessful, but it’s because she could never get into good debates. Smart, savvy, experienced. Knows the issues that I’ve been talking about. Presents well. Doesn’t have a voting record. They’ll trash her bigtime because of her Hewlett-Packard experience.”
Ted Cruz: “Not ready for primetime.”
Mike Huckabee: “Possibility. Good guy, well-rounded. Could fit in the middle and could attract votes from both sides.”
Rick Santorum: “Love him as a man. I think he feels called to try to do this. I don’t think it’s within his reach.”
Chris Christie: “Don’t know. I haven’t followed him well. I saw his tollgate problems. I like the fact that he answers questions correctly, which very few candidates do. I like the fact that he’ll take a risk and give you an answer that’s not politically popular.”
Jeb Bush: “I don’t think America will elect another Bush president. I talk to a lot of liberals all the time. They still loathe George Bush. And so you shut out 47 percent of the electorate with that nomination. So you only get to lose three or four percent. I just don’t think it’s a possibility.”
Coburn has also called out his own party for its relentless quest to defund Obamacare, saying it took them “away from the larger picture.” He also dismissed 2013 legislation designed to defund health care reform as “dishonest” and “hype.” Said Coburn, “It’s a terribly dangerous and not successful strategy.”
Still, lest he come off as a milquetoast conservative, Coburn is still the same man who warned of “rampant lesbianism” in Oklahoma schools, said that breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t result in a default, believed doctors who perform abortions should be executed, and thought the Second Amendment should allow people to buy bazookas.