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Newt Gingrich's Revolution

In 1978 an untenured professor (image) from the University of West Georgia, Newton Gingrich, age 35, ran for Congress again, after two failed tries as what has been described as a liberal Republican. A Democrat and former governor of Georgia was in the White House: Jimmy Carter. In 1978 Gingrich was holding to a tougher and more conservative advocacy, and Gingrich advised other Republicans running for office that "Boy Scout words might be great around the campfire, but are lousy in politics ... You're fighting a war." he said, "It is a war for power ... What we really need are people who are willing to stand up in a slug-fest." (Levitsky and Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, p 147.)

In what has been described as a nasty campaign, Gingrich won his race. Republicans in 1978 gained an additional 15 seats in the House of Representatives, 158 seats for the Republicans and 277 for the Democrats.

An article in the Atlantic Monthly titled "The Man Who Broke Politics" was to describe Gingrich as thinking that his fellow Republicans would never be able to take back the House as long as they kept compromising with the Democrats out of some high-minded civic desire to keep congressional business humming along. The Atlantic article quotes the political scientist Norm Ornstein as saying that Gingrich's idea "was to build toward a national election where people were so disgusted by Washington and the way it was operating that they would throw the ins out and bring the outs in." The article, by McKay Coppins, describes Gingrich as having "set a model for future Republican leaders."

In 1983, Gingrich launched the "Conservative Opportunity Society," a caucus of Young Turk Republican House conservatives. It had only a dozen members early on, but he elevated his profile by using C-SPAN television night after night, denouncing the ruling party to an empty House chamber.

By the opening of the Republican Party convention in 1984 in Dallas, Gingrich stood out more among his fellow Republicans, to the irritation of Bob Dole and other party leaders. He was pushing supply-side economics, a balanced budget, a line-item veto, war on drugs, war on crime, and war on welfare.

During the GOP Convention in Dallas in 1984 Newt was a rising star to the irritation of Bob Dole and other party leaders. He fashioned a kind of 'New Age Reaganism' melding science fiction, Star Wars, balanced budget, line-item veto, war on drugs, war on crime, war on welfare, and supply-side economics.

Ronald Reagan was President and was working well with the Democrat Majority Leader of the House, Tip O'Neill, with whom he was a friend. The Republican Minority Leader of the House was Bob Michel, who carpooled with his Democrat collegue Dan Rostenkowski during recesses to Illinois. Michel believed that the best way to serve conservatism was by working honestly with Democratic leaders, pulling legislation to the right when he could and protecting the good faith that made aisle-crossing possible. Gingrich described that Michel's approach "represented a culture which had been defeated consistently."

Gingrich was popular enough among his fellow Republicans to get elected Minority Whip, in Marach 1989, by two votes, described as a victory for Young Turks over the Republican Party's "old boy network." In the November 1990 mid-term elections he won re-election by only 974 votes. His Democratic opponent, David Whorley, attacked him for supporting a Congressional pay raise, but the Democratic Party failed to help Whorely financially, having made a deal with Republicans not to support a candidate making a issue of congressional pay raises.

In January 1993, William Jefferson Clinton became President. Against Clinton, a new hardball politics was employed. There were filibusters to block Democratic Party legislation, and Senate Republicans pushed for investigations into scandals such as a land deal called Whitewater, and there was the Foster suicide and accusations against Clinton regarding Paula Jones. In the House, Minority Whip Gingrich led a Republican opposition against Clinton Administration. In September 1994, a couple of months before the mid-term elections, Gingrich organized what became known as "The Contract with America" and gathered over 300 Republican candidates on Capitol grounds for its signing. The elections in November gave the Republicans the win that Gingrich had been long hoping for. It was a landslide and to be called the "Republican Revolution." The Republicans won 234 seats in the House and the Democrats only 197. And the Republicans took control of the Senate, 55 seats to 47 for the Democrats — the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate for the first time in the Eisenhower presidency in 1955.

In January 1995, the Congress (the 104th) convened, and Gingrich's Republican colleagues chose him to be Speaker of the House. A liberal Democrat in the House, Barney Frank of Massachusetts was to sum up Gingrich as having

transformed American politics from one in which people presume the goodwill of their opponents, even as they disagreed, into one in which people treated the people with whom they disagreed as bad and immoral. He was a kind of McCarthyite who succeeded.

With Gingrich as House Speaker the Republicans

adopted a "no compromise" approach ... that brazenly rejected forbearance in pursuit of victory by "any means necessary". House Republicans refused to compromise, for example, in budget negotiations, leading to a five-day government shut down in 1995 and a twenty-one day shutdown in 1996. (Levitsky & Ziblatt, p150)

President Clinton believed that to get things done he had to work with Gingrich, and Gingrich was amiable and serious enough with Clinton that the two formed a working relationship.


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