The only thing red about Newt Gingrich, a darling of the American right and its bottom-line Baptists, is in the red, white and blue pattern of Republican Party elephants on his necktie. The only thing green about the 16-year congressional veteran and Republican whip is his envy of the Democratic party’s 40-year dominance of the House of Representatives. But in the manner of the skittering salamander with flittering tongue that inhabits his Georgia home base, Gingrich has been darting from place to place in advance of the U.S. elections
% IN MINNEAPOLIS
The red-spotted newt of eastern North America is olive green with red spots when adult.
-Webster’s New World Encyclopedia
on Nov. 8, repeatedly tonguing a radically right-wing message in his staccato style in support of fellow Republicans. And last week, in an interview on the fly while he blitzed traditionally liberal terrain in Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota, the increasingly confident campaigner declared: “The political establishment is faced potentially with a cataclysm on the scale of what happened to Canada’s governing party a year ago.”
Gingrich set aside the fact that the defeated Canadian Conservatives stood closer to his ideals than the Liberals who supplanted them.
He tailors his pitch to his listeners, as he demonstrated in Minnesota by suggesting that a few Republican gains there could vault the party into majority control of Congress. And he did not predict as great a Democratic decline on Nov. 8 as the collapse that befell Canadian Conservatives a year ago (down to a pair of Commons seats from 153). His broad forecast last week was for “25 to 75” Republican additions to the party’s present 178 members in the 435-seat House. Re-
publicans could also overturn a 5b-to-44 Democratic majority in the Senate, he noted, and win governorships in key state elections. But Gingrich presents his campaign as more than a partisan power struggle. The self-made conservative guru portrays the rightward revolution he leads as a visionary response to the popular will. The sometime history teacher places his crusade in the context of a global social transformation.
“It’s partly inspired, frankly, by what happened in Canada last year,” said Gingrich, playing to the audience in a Maclean’s interview. “I think the entire industrial world is going through this enormous trauma. From Russia to Poland to Italy to France—with the single exception of Germany, where Helmut Kohl won re-election by a narrow margin—all over the planet you see a tremendous pressure for change. I think that the same thing’s happening in the U.S. People want us to move into an information age, they want us to be prepared to compete in a world market, they feel deeply that the welfare state has failed and they’re very bitter about it And I think the political establishment here just isn’t listening.”
What the Democrats do hear is that the revolution is promoting the personal career of Newton Leroy (Newt) Gingrich, 51, as a take-no-prisoners veteran of partisan combat He clashed with Democratic House speakers early in his war against Democrats. In 1987, he lodged the accusations of financial wrong
marching orders from its would-be House Speaker and his allies. A Republican majority would mark “the end of government that is too big, too intrusive and too easy with the public’s money,” according to “Contract with America,” the House Republicans’ policy statement Ballyhooed by Gingrich and more than three-quarters of Republican House candidates in a Capitol Hill unveiling on Sept. 27, the contract promises immediate action in Congress to reduce its staff and restrict its privileges. Majority or not, says Gingrich, within 100 days his party will introduce for “full and open debate” legislation to curb public welfare, cut capital gains tax, increase punishments for crime, forbid U.S. forces to serve under United Nations command and foster family values under an “American Dream Restoration Act.” That includes a taxdeductible American Dream savings plan designed to help middle-class families. Some moderate Republicans have objected to parts of the contract, notably a plan to deny public welfare to mothers under 18 years old and withhold aid for children bom to mothers already on welfare.
Another contract promise, to impose limits on the length of time members of Congress may serve, could prove an embarrassment for Gingrich himself. The term limits mooted, and enacted by referendum in some states, restrict service in Congress to 12 years. Gingrich is completing his 16th year in the House and going for two more. That conflict between advocacy and practice provides ammunition to Gingrich’s Democratic opponent in his home district, former congressman Ben Jones, an actor better known as Cooter in the 1970s TV comedy The Dukes of Hazzard. Jones, fruitlessly demanding a debate with Gingrich, has pursued the Republican on his GOPAC tours as far away as Connecticut—accompanied by two hunting dogs. During Gingrich’s 45 minutes on the Minneapolis radio show, the producer reported that Jones was on the line. Gingrich waved off the call: “I’ve told him that he can see me if he pays the price of admission to my events—half-price for the dogs.” Whether or not term limits take effect, Gingrich may have grander ambitions in mind, especially if his Republican acolytes score strongly in November. Democrat Sam Nunn’s Georgia Senate seat opens in 1996. So does the White House. Is Gingrich considering a direct run against Clinton? A pause, and then: “I don’t think about ’96.” □
doing against Democratic Speaker Jim Wright that led to Wright’s resignation two years later. In 1990, when an investigation into openly gay Congressman Barney Frank’s hiring of a male prostitute as a personal aide found him guilty of two minor infractions and recommended a reprimand, which Frank accepted, Gingrich presented a motion of censure, a sterner punishment. (It was defeated.)
In the current campaign, Gingrich provoked an uproar when, on Oct 14, a leaked account of a private Gingrich meeting with lobbyists quoted him reminding the potential campaign contributors that his party had derailed a bill to restrict their activities. In the same session, he described President Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration as “the enemy of normal Americans.” An unrepentant Gingrich later allowed that he probably should have said “threat to” instead of “enemy of.”
Nine days later, Gingrich presented on national television details from a document prepared by White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin outlining options for curbing future budget deficits.
The list included possible limits on cost-of-living increases in Social Security pensions and the elimination of some income-tax deductions. That, said Gingrich, shows the hypocrisy in an administration that has repeatedly attacked his own policies as regressive.
In the Minneapolis interview, Gingrich reacted heatedly when asked if there were not economizing elements in the Rivlin study that he could accept. “That’s baloney,” he said. “That’s a total misrepresentation of our position. You don’t get it. We are for very boldly different policies than this administration.”
It was the only open sign during that campaign sortie of the partisan Gingrich emotion that has often terrorized Democrats. His Minneapolis day, following a campaign event in the southeast corner of the state, began at dawn, the temperature below freezing, the pudgy campaigner coatless.
In the studio of a talk-radio show, Gingrich seemed bored, expressing surprise later that no callers challenged him. He repeated his pitch over and over again at a seven-event day that included a $l,000-a-plate fund-raising lunch for a local candidate. He later continued west to South Dakota, Idaho and Washington state. By the campaign’s close, staffers say, he will have visited 137 congressional districts in 30 states over 24 months—with advice, encouragement and fund-raisers.
Such personal attention has helped Gin-
grich recruit an avid army of mostly fortysomething, mainly conservative Republicans who helped him drive the party to the right. It has also made him a major Republican power. He finances progress in both endeavors with about $2 million raised annually through a political action committee called GOPAC. Since becoming its chairman in 1986, he has transformed GOPAC from a source of handouts to congressional candidates into funding for Gingrich political instruction tapes, conference calls to candidates and his visits to them.
Gingrich, transplanted in his teens from his native Pennsylvania to Georgia, where he represents an affluent Atlanta suburb, narrowly wrested the Republican whip’s position, in a 1989 poll for the party No. 2 caucus job, from a candidate favored by party seniors. Now, he is the favorite to replace Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois, retiring at age 71 be-
fore a newly elected Congress convenes on Jan. 4. And if the Republicans become the House majority party, their leader would likely take the elective House Speaker’s chair, a position of immense power over the legislative agenda. That would create what Wall Street Journal columnist Albert Hunt has described as “the two words that most horrify Washington Democrats: Speaker Gingrich.” The 104th Congress has already received
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