THE 2,210 PARTY faithful who gathered for the Republican Convention in the air-conditioned Houston Astrodome in August 1992 were looking for inspiration. The mood was sour. Just a year earlier, President George H.W. Bush had waged a brilliant military offensive that expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and pushed his popularity to unprecedented heights. But with the Cold War over, and with no clear foreign threat to distract them, Americans were beginning to focus more attention on problems at home, where a soaring deficit and rising unemployment eroded support for the administration. “The United States has never been less threatened by foreign forces than it is today,” observed the New York Times, “but the unfortunate corollary is that never since the Great Depression has the threat to domestic well-being been greater.”1
Conservatives had always been suspicious of the aristocratic Bush, believing that he lacked Ronald Reagan’s deeply embedded faith in conservative principles, his gift for political theater, and his ability to articulate grand visions that touched a resonant chord with Americans. The president confirmed those suspicions in 1990 when, over strong conservative objections, Gingrich’s included, he signed a bill that attempted to address the budget deficit by combining modest cuts with moderate tax increases. The move led to a revolt in the party and produced a spirited primary challenge from conservative commentator and speechwriter Patrick Buchanan. Bush managed to crush the revolt, but his party was deeply divided, looking for a message that would unite it.
For months, Newt Gingrich had been firing off memorandums to the president and his staffimploring him to adopt a more aggressively ideological