The Republicans and Mr. Gingrich

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Republicans and Mr. Gingrich


Republicans used to understand the "Newt Problem" fairly well. It became unmistakable in the weeks leading up to the 1994 elections. But it was not then and never has been - or so Republicans used to understand - an ethics problem. It was a political problem.

Newt Gingrich had long been a famous Washington Republican, of course, having led the charge that ultimately forced House Speaker Jim Wright to resign in disgrace in 1989. But fame is a relative thing. By and large, Mr. Gingrich toiled in the same obscurity as other Republicans in the House of Representatives - a body in which the majority rules absolutely and Republicans, a minority for going on 40 years, were regarded by their Democratic masters and the Washington press corps as an irrelevance barely rising to the level of nuisance, and then only occasionally.

So there weren't a lot of people paying close attention as Mr. Gingrich rose to prominence in the House - eventually to become minority whip, a position from which he eased out Republican leader Bob Michel, all the while building a formidable political apparatus designed to sell a populist-conservative Republican message to voters. Until late summer 1994, that is - when Democrats realized that something was going badly wrong and Mr. Gingrich was proposing to "nationalize" the election as a choice between Republican and Democratic visions of government.

At which point Mr. Gingrich became public enemy No. 1 for Democrats. In the weeks leading up to the November election, he was the subject of an unrelentingly negative media barrage. If anything, it only intensified after the Republican victory. And one of its components was a multi-pronged assault on "Newt, Inc." - the apparatus Mr. Gingrich set up to get Republicans elected and to promote his vision, including especially GOPAC. On point for Democrats was the new minority whip, David Bonior.

What Republicans used to understand is that this attack had little to do with ethics and everything to do with politics. Mr. Gingrich was the "Republican Revolution" in the flesh; take him down, and you cripple the Republicans. So Mr. Bonior brought charge after charge after charge alleging all kinds of perfidy by Mr. Gingrich. And one by one by one, they all dissolved into the Washington air. The House ethics committee dismissed more than 60. A federal judge threw out a Federal Election Commission witch hunt against GOPAC. …

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