Revisiting the Gingrich years

Revisiting the Gingrich years

hmortman@njdc.com

Newt Gingrich's decision to give up his post as House speaker was scrutinized this week by the nation's editorial writers, many of whom saw historic significance in the history professor's tenure. A sampling of newspapers:

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle: "It took three elections before the history professor was elected to Congress, and then years of effort to achieve Republican control of Congress. But the energetic visionary pulled off both." (11/9)

The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.): "Credit Newt Gingrich with the courage to see that by resigning both the House speakership and his seat in Congress he gives his party a vital chance to recover its balance." (11/8)

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer: "Leading a party with such internal divisions would have been difficult for anyone. Speaker Gingrich's political miscalculations, ethical lapses and intemperance compounded the difficulty for him." (11/9)

The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times: "For all his political skills, the speaker soon proved a divisive figure, a lightning rod for critics in and out of Congress." (11/9)

Chicago Tribune: "Gingrich is being forced to leave Congress because the Republican rank-and-file finally recognized that, just as it couldn't have gained power in the House without him, it couldn't sustain itself in power with him." (11/9)

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch: "Gingrich never seemed to understand that governing is far different from campaigning. The American public understands the difference and puts up with a lot of campaign nonsense. In exchange, it expects day-to-day governing to focus on solving problems and planning sensibly. Instead, Americans saw a House speaker with a child's attention span, preoccupied with perceived personal slights, given to inflammatory language and every bit as ethically flawed as President Clinton." (11/9)

The Miami Herald: "The fiery Georgian, who never gave any quarter, gets none after he costs the GOP five House seats. . . . For him, politics is in-your-face, winner-take-all, and woe be the foe who's on the losing side. Now Mr. Gingrich's tactics have claimed their biggest victim: himself." (11/9)

Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.): "It is ironic, in some ways, that Gingrich is being not so gently nudged out by some of the same true believers he led to the House majority in 1994, a first for Republicans since the Great Depression. Indeed, many members of Congress apparently have short memories." (11/8)

The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Gingrich was wise to surrender the speakership without a fight, clearing the way for fresh leadership that is badly needed." (11/7)

The Blame Game

The end of Gingrich's reign as speaker was not the only immediate fallout from the 1998 elections. Republican consultants also took it on the chin.

Consider New York, where longtime political and governmental adviser Arthur J. Finkelstein became a lightning rod for disgruntled Republicans upset over Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato's failed re-election bid.

Frederic U. Dicker of the New York Post reported that "angry Republicans charge that Finkelstein's highly negative, liberal-bashing campaign tactics insulted New Yorkers, weakened D'Amato and generally work only when used against already-unpopular candidates or old-fashioned, left-of-center liberals, who are increasingly rare." In addition to D'Amato, Finkelstein advises New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who was re-elected and makes no secret about his national ambitions. Dicker quoted "a source close to the situation" as saying: "The governor was told, `You may think you need Finkelstein and that's what he wants you to believe . . . but if you want to go someplace politically in the future, if you want a future on the national scene, look at what happened and realize you don't need him anymore." (11/9)

Meanwhile, how often does a consultant admit that a strategy failed, and do it in front of a national television audience? Hardly ever. One exception: Republican media strategist Michael Murphy, who helped create the controversial Operation Breakout TV ads that the Republicans ran in the final days of the 1998 election. Murphy told CNN's Inside Politics: "I am one of the guys that made one of the ads, so I'll take a lump with the rest of us. They didn't work. I don't think they hurt us; I don't think they helped us. The bottom line is, they didn't work." (11/4)

Concord Gripes

With the House Republicans looking for new leaders, and the GOP as a whole recovering from Election '98, are there any other problem spots for Republicans? Yes, in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, of all places. The state Republicans there lost control of the 24-member Senate for the first time since 1912, while incumbent Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen cruised to re-election. "Against that," wrote Alex Leary of the Concord Monitor, "some party members suggested that" New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Steve Duprey "should be replaced."

Among the names of possible replacements: ex-Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., and Signe McQuaid, a delegate for Patrick J. Buchanan at the 1996 Republican National Convention. For his part, Duprey is running for re-election. The state party votes this January. (11/9) No doubt presidential wanna-bes will be watching this race closely.

In a New York Minuet

Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's announcement that he would not seek re-election in 2000 has set off the biggest scramble in New York politics since, well, since Republican Al D'Amato's Senate seat was up this year.

This being New York, the race is sure to attract star-studded interest. The New York Post dropped the names of several political notables who might consider running for the seat. Among Democrats the Post mentioned: first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, George magazine President and Editor in Chief John F. Kennedy Jr. (and, for good measure, his cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr.), and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo. Republicans mentioned by the Post included: New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, ex-Rep. Susan Molinari and D'Amato. (11/7) Other Democrats who have been mentioned in the media include ABC News pundit and former Clinton adviser George R. Stephanopoulos and actor Alec Baldwin.

The Meaning of Philly

Following the Nov. 3 elections, the Republican National Committee quickly announced that Philadelphia would host the 2000 national convention. Dick Polman of The Philadelphia Inquirer saw the "sudden" selection as a recognition by the party of GOP centrists.

Polman observed that by staging its convention in the Northeast for the first time since 1948, the GOP "is seeking to demonstrate that it is not bound to the South and Sun Belt, that the party of conservatism is anxious to wear a more moderate face." The convention will allow the GOP "to showcase its successful" Northeast governors--Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and George E. Pataki of New York--"all of whom are pragmatic problem-solvers."

Ridge: "We need to be in a Northeast urban community. . . . We ought to be a lot more aggressive. Let's go into some nontraditional constituencies and reach out. . . . We need to do something different than we have done in the past." The past four GOP conventions have been staged in the Sun Belt: Dallas, New Orleans, Houston and San Diego. Polman noted that neither George Bush in 1992, nor Bob Dole in 1996, won a single northeastern state. And the GOP controls only 39 of the region's 97 House seats. Pennsylvania, by the way, has voted for the winning presidential candidate in 11 of the past 12 elections, including Bill Clinton in '92 and in '96. (11/6)

Needless to say, the decision to pick Philadelphia was not pleasing to the competing cities.

Red McCombs, co-chairman of the San Antonio Convention 2000 Host Committee, told The Philadelphia Inquirer: "I am just a little bit stunned. I think it is a colossal Republican mistake. This is to take nothing away from Philadelphia, obviously a great city. But Philadelphia is a city that people go to when they have to go there. San Antonio is a city that people want to go to."

And Mitch Daniels, who helped direct Indianapolis' bid for the GOP convention, said, "If you're looking for gracious loser comments, you'd better call someone else. I think my beloved party is on a roll of lousy decisions and they didn't want to break the string." (The Indianapolis Star/News, 11/6)

Starr's in Stripes

Richard Dreyfuss played the role of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr at a private reading of Starr's Last Tapes, a new play by Victor Navasky and Richard Lingeman. The one-character play is "a political fantasy set in the future, depicting Starr in prison overalls, surrounded by tapes and documents, writing his memoirs and vowing to get" the now-former President Clinton. Navasky and Lingeman, editors at The Nation magazine, lined up Dreyfuss for the reading and "hope one day to bring the play to Broadway." The reading was held in a West Side apartment. (New York Post, 11/11)

Olbermann's First Love

Keith Olbermann announced that he is leaving MSNBC to co-host a nightly sports roundup show on Fox Sports Net. Olbermann told his Big Show audience: "I'll be leaving this program . . . to return full time to my first love, sports news. Besides which, I had to fulfill my end of the bargain that I made with Newt Gingrich: If he'd quit, so would I." (11/10)

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