“Politics is War for Power”-Newt

Dear Group,

In the November 2018 Issue of The Atlantic is an article entitled: The Man Who Broke Politics; Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise. Now he’s reveling in his achievements. I encourage you to read it.

Gingrich was elected to Congress for the first time from the 6th Congressional District of the State of Georgia in 1978, after unsuccessful runs for the same seat in 1974 and 1976. Before Gingrich’s success  in 1978, the incumbent Democrat, Jack Flynt, decided to retire. Gingrich beat the Democratic candidate for Flynt’s seat, Virginia Shapard, by 7500 votes. 

From the Atlantic article: 

During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat—replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism—that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.

The Gingrich story intersects with the story of eastern Washington, specifically, Congressional District 5. In 1994 Tom Foley was both the WA CD5 Representative to Congress and the Speaker of the House. In November of that year George Nethercutt beat Foley at the ballot box by a tiny margin, ending much of eastern Washington’s influence on the national stage. In that election Republicans acquired the majority of seats in the House for the first time since 1954. Newt Gingrich was instrumental in this takeover with his in-your-face tactics. As part of the strategy Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote and popularized the Contract with America,” a document that helped focus the 1994 election on a national Republican agenda and minimize regional and local issues. Newt became Speaker of the House partly because of his militant bluster and Republican’s electoral success. In 1994, Gingrich was only fifty-one years old. 

After stamping his brand of pugilistic politics on the Republican Party in the 1994 election, Gingrich lasted in Congress, and as Speaker, only four years. In late 1998, after the Republicans lost five House seats (the worst showing in 64 years for a Party not holding the Presidency) and facing a rebellious Republican Caucus, Gingrich resigned the Speakership and announced he would resign his House seat, less than a month into the term for which he had just been re-electied. In an interview after his resignation he said, “I’m willing to lead but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals. My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is. Frankly, Marianne and I could use a break.” [Marianne was the second of three wives.]

Gingrich hasn’t held an elected public office since January 1999, but his name re-appears frequently in Republican politics. He appears on Fox News as a commentator. At age 75 he is enjoying the good life in Rome, while his third wife, Callista, serves as ambassador to the Vatican, courtesy of Trump’s nomination and the Republican Senate’s approval. Gingrich keeps sending me emails praising Trump and fundraising for him.. He lives in style on money he makes giving speeches, and revels in the form of militarized politics with which he has afflicted the nation.

Gingrich started out in Congress in January 1979, age 35. He was already an assistant professor of history. He was already a man with high aspirations and an inflated opinion of himself and of his place in history. To me he is an example of intelligence gone awry. He and his brand of politics rank right up there with Mitch McConnell and Steve Bannon.

Fix Gingrich in your understanding of U.S. political history. I strongly recommend reading both the Atlantic article and the Gingrich article in wikipedia

Contrast the lasting influence of a Newt Gingrich to that of our Representative McMorris Rodgers. She rode in on George Nethercutt’s coattails in 2004 with hardly a fight, no three attempts for her. Her supposed expertise is in communicating the national Republican message, not shaping it, and, now, post election, even her pretense of leadership as chairwoman of the Republican caucus is gone.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Gingrich, as revealed in the Atlantic article, is fascinated by dinosaurs and with his Darwinian concept of struggle in the natural (and political) world. It is no stretch to assume that Gingrich understands and appreciates the science around geologic time and biological evolution. Nonetheless,from Wikipedia: “As Speaker, Gingrich sought to increasingly tie Christian conservatism to the Republican Party. According to a 2018 study, Christian conservatism had become firmly ingrained in the Republican Party’s policy platforms by 2000.” Note the irony of his courting a segment of the voting public many of whom strongly reject concepts central to Newt’s understanding of the world. Politics makes odd bedfellows…

* Many of the policy ideas in the Contract with America originated at the Heritage Foundation, an institution heavily supported by funds from the Koch donor group of libertarian leaning business people and one of the first institutions to pop up in response to the Powell Memorandum.