|SHIELDS & GIGOT|
November 6, 1998
|In a move that shocked Washington, Rep. Newt Gingrich announced late Friday that he would not seek a third term as Speaker of the House and would resign his seat. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot analyze what happened to the Speaker and what is occuring inside the House Republican Conference.|
MARGARET WARNER: Just minutes ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced that he would not seek a third term as Speaker of the House of Representatives. It's been three days since mid-term elections saw Republicans lose five seats in the House. Gingrich's leadership came under challenge earlier today when Congressman Bob Livingston of Louisiana, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters he would challenge the speaker in party leadership elections later this month.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: The Republican Party has those ideas and always has, but our ideas have gotten lost. Perhaps our message has gotten lost in the haze of high rhetoric and miscast priorities, lost on a management style where process is subordinated to polls, and self-initiated crises -
MARGARET WARNER: Earlier today, Congressman Steve Largent of Oklahoma, who was elected with the new Republican majority in 1994, announced he would challenge the majority leader, Dick Armey of Texas.
REP. STEVE LARGENT: We've had a leadership vacuum for four years in Washington, D.C., that has basically been blown about by the winds of public opinion polls and focus groups, as opposed to relying upon a standard and principles, and adhering to those standards and principles that define the Republican Party. One of the mandates for the leadership and for the 106th Congress is that we put together an agenda about what we're going to do for the American people that we are going to stress less government and lower taxes, strong defense, and the respect of life. That is a Republican - a simple Republican message. It works because Ronald Reagan kept to the message, and he was a believable messenger, and I think if we return to that play book and we learn to play offense, as opposed to treading water and marching in place and hoping that the President self-destructs, that if we play offense with a Republican message, that we will be successful.
|The final loss of Election '98?|
MARGARET WARNER: Now analysis of these development with Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. What happened, Paul? How did this unravel so quickly?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's stunning news, Margaret. The speaker called - Trent Lott called Dick Armey, his partner, and revolution, and majority leader, at 4 o'clock and said that - he concluded that he can no longer lead. He thought he might have had the votes, though it would be a rough effort to get them, but that he was such a lightning rod, not just within the entire Congress but within his own caucus and conference, that as long as he was there as the person to blame, as the person to - everybody could put all of their hopes and dreams and blame on - they would never be able to unify as a party, they would never be able to get a real hard message out, and with a six-seat majority it was going to be difficult under any circumstances but particularly with him as a lightning rod, and so he said he was going to leave. And it just goes to show you how fast things happen in modern politics. Newt Gingrich dominated that conference. That's what's going to be difficult for the Republicans. He really was - he was the strategist; he was the communicator; he was also the idea man, the agenda setter. So this is really killing the king. I mean, this is off with his head.
MARGARET WARNER: I mean, just yesterday - just today Bob Livingston said he didn't think Newt Gingrich would ever consider not running for re-election.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Margaret, not quite 72 hours after the polls closed, the final returns came in. When a political party suffers a humiliating setback, as the Republicans did on Tuesday, the political party doesn't want to acknowledge that the defeat was administered to it because its ideas were irrelevant, or its ideas were not particularly interesting or credible to a majority of Americans, invariably the losing political party wants to blame its own candidate. It blamed Bob Dole, did the Republicans, they blamed George Bush, Democrats blamed Michael Dukakis and Fritz Mondale, and Newt Gingrich became the candidate. There wasn't a candidate. There was no national candidate to pin this on, and Newt Gingrich became the candidate upon which all the grievances were visited, and he was the face of the party. He was the defining figure in the party, make no mistake about it. And the - the central figure in the entire revolution. So it was - and Newt played the lightning rod. He was naturally gifted for that role. He had about him a desire, an aptitude for controversy, but there's no question that the returns were in and he looked at the numbers and he couldn't make it.
MARGARET WARNER: Could he have made it, though?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's an interesting question. I think the biggest obstacle he had was not necessarily the challenge by Bob Livingston or somebody else but it was the so-called - what I called the suicide bomber group, the six or seven people who were going to say we won't -
MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans -
PAUL GIGOT: In the Republican conference who said we will vote for Newt Gingrich under no circumstances.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, tell - explain briefly how the procedure worked, because he might have won the vote. There are two votes, really, right, one later this month, just among the Republicans, and then one next year.
PAUL GIGOT: Mid November, each party, Democrats and Republicans nominate their slate for leadership. Then when the Congress organizes in January, those sides offer their slates, and they have a vote, almost always a party line vote, and it's pro forma. But these - some of these Republicans - all we need is six, because that's how narrow the majority is - had said we will vote under - for Newt Gingrich under no circumstances. Matt Salmon of Arizona said it on the record. Others were talking about it privately. And if that happened, it meant there could have been chaos on the floor in January, and Dick Gephardt could have ended up as Speaker of the House. So with that kind of a prospect, that really made it even more difficult for the speaker to win within his own conference because they said, wait a minute, if we vote you now, what will happen in January?
|A political eulogy?|
MARGARET WARNER: But Newt Gingrich is really - is it fair to say a towering figure in this party in the history of this party?
MARK SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich is a unique figure in modern American political history. The Republican Party had three enormous landslide winners. Dwight Eisenhower twice, '52 and '56, Ronald Reagan twice, '80 and '84, Richard Nixon in 1972, and none of those was two brief years in the Eisenhower era did the Republicans ever come within a stone's throw, a shout of being a majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives. They had given up. They were paralyzed with despair. They - they've consigned themselves to minority status. And Newt Gingrich came along and he believed - first of all he believed and he made others believe that they could do it. He was the architect and the engineer of the Republican takeover in 1994. He was - he nationalized it; he became the voice of the party; he became the spirit of the party. And he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1995. And by 1996, he had become the most unpopular political figure in the country after the closing down of the government -- but still, a figure of enormous, enormous importance. He made Republicans believe in themselves. They never would have won back the House, never would have won the House unless they did.
PAUL GIGOT: What I think about Gingrich is his daring, his imagination. When he - he ran for Congress three times before he ran, first of all. But when he was in the minority, there had been a malaise in the party, the Republican Party and the House, that they'd never win, they thought. It was go along, get along. It was ask for crumbs at the table of the Democrats on appropriations, on ways and means, on taxes. Gingrich said, wait a minute, the job of a minority party is to oppose; it is not to just get along; it is to offer alternatives and then push those alternatives. And he was willing to take on a sitting speaker of the house on ethics, Jim Wright, and succeeded. He was willing to take on the president of his own party, George Bush, on a budget deal, which was enormously unpopular. And he almost lost his seat in 1990, because of it. But it so rallied his own troops that it propelled him later to become minority leader, himself, and ultimately on to the speakership. The thing about Gingrich is that the same qualities of daring and imagination, risk taking, and polarizing, partisanship, that helped propel him to the leadership, were also making it more difficult for him to lead and to govern, because the Democrats so despised him for taking away their leadership, and they never forgot him, and they immediately tried to - really to take him down right from the beginning. They used ethics against him, and they used his own excesses, his own rhetorical excesses against him to make him the kind of negative figure that he became in a lot of the public's eyes.
MARK SHIELDS: I take exception here to Paul's eulogy. Newt Gingrich did it to himself.
PAUL GIGOT: He partly did. He partly did.
MARK SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich - a week before the election said when a woman in South Carolina drowned her two children, that this was the Democrats, this was the Democrats' America. I mean, the rhetorical excess - I think that's really euphemism. I mean, he went beyond the bounds. He made politics into war. He loved to use those military analogies, and characterizing himself as an army brat. But let's get one thing straight, Margaret, it is impossible, it is impossible, given the situation right now, whether it's Newt Gingrich, whether it's Joe Cannon or Tip O'Neill or Sam Rayburn, to run the Congress of the United States with a six-vote majority. I mean, Newt Gingrich couldn't have done it; he was probably the least able to do it, because he was a polarizing figure. But at the same time, whoever takes over that job is going to go one of two ways. He has to reach out across the aisle, and once he does that, whether it's on HMO bill of rights, whether it's on education and rebuilding America's schools, he's going to run square into a buzz saw of resistance within his own pockets, just as Newt Gingrich took hits.
|The race to replace Gingrich.|
MARGARET WARNER: But isn't there going to be a lot of people vying for this horrible job, nonetheless?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the line will be long. Dick Armey is going to stick with the Majority Leader position, I'm told. He is going to stay there.
MARGARET WARNER: He hopes?
PAUL GIGOT: He hopes. He's going to try to keep that job. And frankly, the speaker leaving probably helps because you want some continuity. I don't know that you want to replace every job in that leadership right away, but I think you can see, in addition to Bob Livingston, you can see - you might see Bill Archer, the Ways and Means chairman, getting -
MARK SHIELDS: He's already announced his retirement, though, hasn't he? This is his last term?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. But that's in part because he's term limited at Ways and Means. If, however, he becomes Speaker, he's not term limited, because -
MARGARET WARNER: It becomes more attractive again to stay?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. That's an eight-year run, once you get it, under the current congressional rules.
MARK SHIELDS: Have the Republicans got the majority for the next eight years?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know that they will, but - and then Chris Cox, who is the fifth member of the leadership, policy committee chairman, respected man from California, may get in. There may be others.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think, though, Mark, that the rifts we've seen in this party between moderates and the conservatives and Steve Largent - we talked about that today - that in a way made it so hard for Gingrich to govern last time, are those going to be in full flower in the leadership fight, or do you think they're going to be looking for someone who at least starting out says I can unify these two wings?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, certainly if you're looking for someone who says I can unify - but let me tell you, Margaret, after a defeat, the true believers in any party - I don't care if it's the liberals in the Democratic Party - after they lost the presidency, they had one solution, one explanation. That's because we didn't stand strong enough and unequivocally enough for our liberal positions, and people said, they have two Republican Parties. What did the Republicans - what are the Republicans going to say now - we lost in 1998 because we didn't stand clearly, strong, emphatically out for tax cuts or whatever - dismantling the Department of Education - so I mean - then they've got the other side - no, we have to be more pragmatic; we have to get things done; it's going to involve consensus and compromise. And you hear that from the Democrats, after their defeats, you hear it among the Republicans, so I just think it's an impossible, impossible task right now, and an uphill fight. I think the - most of all - if Newt Gingrich had stayed, he united the Democrats like no other Republican, there will be maybe a couple of champagne corks pop at Democratic headquarters tonight, but within a week they'll be missing Newt because Newt was a great - was great for uniting the party, and because he was such a polarizing figure within his own party, but also between the two parties.
PAUL GIGOT: So they did dislike him.
MARK SHIELDS: Hey, he was no Dale Carnegie.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, what do you think about this? How big - how serious is this gulf in the party? Some of it is strategic or tactical - why did we lose - and you have the two views -
PAUL GIGOT: There's always a fight - whenever there's a defeat - between those who say we went too far and those who say you didn't go far enough. But that's not - if they make that analysis, it'll be impossible for them to govern. In fact, in a way the Republicans in Congress were both too radical and not radical enough. They had constant ideological bickering and fights over things they couldn't win, for example, abortion riders to appropriations bills and other things. Instead of picking their spots, they continue to have that, and they gave the appearance of being radical and extreme -
MARGARET WARNER: To the public.
PAUL GIGOT: To the public, or let their opponents portray them that way. On the other hand, they had a moderate wing or a really - a stand pat wing, particularly in the Senate but also some in the House who said, hey, we don't want to take any risks, we're going to coast to victory, and so they didn't do anything. They actually had a less - they had the worst possible position you could have in politics, which is you seem to be doing too much, and really be doing nothing at all. And that's - that's - if that's the diagnosis they make, then I think they might be able to unify around two or three themes and push those themes.
MARGARET WARNER: And Newt Gingrich certainly bears responsibility for what happened.
MARK SHIELDS: I just think it's too convenient, too easy to blame the whole thing upon Newt Gingrich. I mean, I don't see - I don't see any competing vision in the world. I think what was revealing was that Bob Livingston, once he emerged as a candidate, he cast himself as the anti-Gingrich - I'm not running for the party chairman, I'm not running for president, I just want to be Speaker of the House, I don't want to be a controversial figure.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We'll be back and talk about it again. Thanks.