Former Congressman Newt Gingrich has never shied away from controversy, so the recent turmoil among his presidential campaign staff, leading to the abrupt departure of a number of his senior aides, was very much in character. At the time, the candidate whom Robert Novak of the Washington Post had once identified as a top presidential contender seemed to be dead in the water. Gingrich, however, has opted to soldier on, and while campaign funding is lagging, the toxic political climate and economic turbulence have made presidential electoral politics more uncertain than at any time in recent memory.
Gingrich received a B.A. in history from Emory University in 1965, and a Ph.D. from Tulane University six years later.
At first Gingrich taught history and geography at West Georgia College. But he also developed a yen for politics, running unsuccessfully for a House seat twice, in 1974 and 1976. In 1978, the man holding the seat who had defeated him narrowly two years earlier decided not to run for reelection, and Newt Gingrich finally captured Georgia's Sixth Congressional District.
The scholarly and articulate Gingrich soon became an influential member of the House. It is important to note that Newt Gingrich was always primarily concerned with revitalizing and redefining so-called "conservatism" rather than limited constitutional government per se. During his early years in Congress, for example, he supported turning Martin Luther King Day into a national holiday--a posture more consistent with broadening the political appeal of Buckleyite Republican conservatism than with reducing the size of the federal government. He also pushed to prohibit the IMF from loaning money to communist countries, instead of supporting complete U.S. withdrawal from the illicit international organization.
Gingrich was involved in several high-profile efforts to crack down on corruption in the House, including the discipline of Representatives Dan Crane and Gerry Studds for involvement in the congressional page sex scandal in 1983, and the investigation of Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright on ethics charges in 1988.
In early 1989, Gingrich was elected House Minority Whip, succeeding Dick Cheney, who had been appointed Secretary of Defense by President George H.W. Bush. In this, his first formal position of power within the House, Gingrich telegraphed his intention to bring reforms to a House controlled by entrenched (and, Gingrich and his allies maintained, corrupt) Democrats for nearly four decades.
Driven by agitation from Gingrich and other would-be reformers, the
House was soon enveloped by scandals. The House bank scandal and the House Post Office scandal laid bare for a disgusted American public the degree to which House members had managed to exempt and insulate themselves from the rules of conduct the American public observes. Gingrich himself was among the many House members guilty of abusing House check-writing privileges, having written a number of overdrafts, including a check for over $9,000 to the Internal Revenue Service,
Notwithstanding, public perception of venal Democrats versus incorruptible Republicans, and of a need to cleanse the House, reached a fever pitch by fall of 1994. The antics of President Bill Clinton, amplified by the relentless ridicule of Rush Limbaugh and other newly prominent conservative radio talk-show hosts, helped to inflame American public opinion.
Prior to the 1994 elections, Gingrich and his Republican associates unveiled a list of agenda items that they pledged to act upon, should they win majorities in the House and Senate. Called the "Contract With America," the plan received an enormous amount of media coverage at the time.
The contract listed eight procedural reforms to be implemented in the House to ensure greater transparency and to encourage members of the …