From Gingrich to McCarthy, the roots of governance by chaos

By | January 8, 2023

Robert Draper writes:

Newt Gingrich was disdainful.

After watching days of House Republicans failing to elect a speaker, Mr. Gingrich, the most famous of all recent G.O.P. House speakers, vented about the hard-right holdouts, among them Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida.

“There’s no deal you can make with Gaetz,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview Thursday night. “He’s essentially bringing ‘Lord of the Flies’ to the House of Representatives.”

In contrast, Mr. Gingrich said of his own speakership, which sought a revolt in the Republican Party and the way Washington does business, “We weren’t just grandstanders. We were purposeful.” He would be glad to show the current rebels how to do it, he said. “But anything that takes longer than waiting for their cappuccino, I doubt they’re interested in.”

History does not precisely remember it that way. It is true that Mr. Gingrich’s tenure from 1995 through 1998 produced several legislative accomplishments, including two balanced budgets signed into law by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton. But to both Democrats and Republicans, the jut-jawed intransigence of House Republicans opposing Representative Kevin McCarthy’s ultimately successful bid to be speaker did not materialize out of nowhere.

Instead, Mr. Gingrich’s triumph in 1994 in wresting the House from a Democratic majority for the first time since 1952 was the starting point for the zero-sum brand of politics that mutated into the Tea Party movement, the grievance-based populism of the Trump era, and what was garishly displayed on the House floor in a raucous four-day speaker battle that ended in the small hours of Saturday. [Continue reading…]

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