Two GOP revolutions, two different outcomes
The first Republican revolution had a short, sharp battle plan: the “Contract with America.” Ten big ideas. Three pages of text.
The second Republican revolution — the one now struggling for oxygen on Capitol Hill — did it differently. Its “Pledge to America” noodled on for 48 pages. It contained less ambitious ideas, but glossy photos of 42 GOP congressmen.
In 1995, that first GOP-led House passed 302 bills in its first year, laying out plans to reform welfare, presidential veto power and criminal sentencing. The current House passed less than 200 bills. Its best-known achievement was an agreement to keep paying the national debt.
On the presidential campaign trail, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is being roasted for the way he led that first Republican surge. Former colleagues have said Gingrich became a meddling bully, constantly distracted by his own brainstorms.
But on Capitol Hill, his revolution is looking more remarkable in hindsight.
That’s because the current GOP leadership — trying to prove that it could succeed without Gingrich’s top-down, micromanaged style — could wind up proving the opposite instead.
The reward for their loose, anti-Gingrich management style has been embarrassing rebellions by the rank-and-file and a dearth of real-world accomplishments. This has been the bitter lesson: Running a revolution is hard.
And Gingrich, for all his flaws, somehow made it work for a while.
“We got the agenda. He was a good leader for that time,” said former Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), who served from 1995 to 2005. “When we started losing elections — you know, after the [government shutdown] — that’s when the confidence level dropped on Newt Gingrich.”