Burning Down The House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall Of A Speaker, And The Rise Of The New Republican Party.
This is the story of how Newt Gingrich and his allies tainted American politics, launching an enduring era of brutal partisan warfare.
Bitterly Partisan And Ruthless Politics
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016,, President Obama observed that Trump “is not an outlier, he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Part.”
In Burning Down The House, historian Julian Zelizer pinpoints the moment when our country was set on a path toward an era of bitterly partisan and ruthless politics, an era that was ignited by Newt Gingrich and his allies.
In 1989, Gingrich brought down Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright and catapulted himself into the national spotlight. Perhaps more than any other politician, Gingrich introduced the rhetoric and tactics that have shaped Congress and the Republican Party for the last three decades.
Elected to Congress in 1978, Gingrich quickly became one of the most powerful figures in America not through innovative ideas or charisma, but through a calculated campaign of attacks against political opponents, casting himself as a savior in a fight of good versus evil.
Taking office in the post-Watergate era, he weaponized the good government reforms newly introduced to fight corruption, wielding the rules in ways that shocked the legislators who had created them. His crusade against Democrats culminated in the plot to destroy the political career of Speaker Wright.
A Path To Power
While some of Gingrich’s fellow Republicans were disturbed by the viciousness of his attacks, party leaders enjoyed his successes so much that they did little collectively to stand in his way.
Democrats, for their part, were alarmed, but did not want to sink to his level and took no effective actions to stop him. It didn’t seem to matter that Gingrich’s moral conservatism was hypocritical or that his methods were brazen, his accusations of corruption permanently tarnished his opponents.
This brand of warfare worked, not as a strategy for governance, but as a path to power, and what Gingrich planted, his fellow Republicans reaped. He led them to their first majority in Congress in decades, and his legacy extends far beyond his tenure in office.
From the Contract with America to the rise of the Tea Party and the Trump presidential campaign, his fingerprints can be seen throughout some of the most divisive episodes in contemporary American politics.
Newt, Trump’s Vice President?
The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, on the evening of July 13, 2016, he marched through the hallways of an Indianapolis television studio as he prepared to appear live on Fox News, with Sean Hannity.
The Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, was seriously considering naming Gingrich his Vice Presidential Running Mate. Gingrich loved being back in the spotlight, to him, the thrill of politics was like a narcotic.
Suddenly Gingrich had a chance to return to the heights of power he had missed since his Republican colleagues had pressured him to step down as Speaker of the House, one of the most influential positions in Washington, back in November 1998.
Many experts argued that Gingrich had a pretty good chance at winning the vice presidential sweepstakes. With New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, and of course the Indiana governor, Mike Pence.
Gingrich, while meeting with Sean Hannity, on Fox News, took the conversation of him becoming Trump’s running mate for Vice President in an unexpected direction. As much as he wanted the job, Gingrich said, he could not resist pointing out why he might not be the best selection.
On the eve of this historic decision, he (Newt) pointed Trump toward his second choice: Mike Pence. Trump would have to decide whether he wanted a “two-pirate ticket,” Gingrich said. If Trump didn’t want to run with such a like-minded person, Pence might be better as a stabilizing force. At this time, it is believed that Trump had made his decision, and he couldn’t be over-shadowed by Newt’s already popularity in the republican party.
Publishers Weekly Review
“Today’s hyper partisan politics it can be traced to Republican Congressman, Newt Gingrich, 1989 ouster of Democratic House Speaker, Jim Wright, according to this meticulously researched account. Zelizer (co-author, Fault Lines), a professor of history at Princton University, sketches Gingrich’s working-class background, frustrated career in academia, and two failed attempts to flip Georgia’s sixth district from blue to red. Victorious on his third try, Gingrich entered Congress in 1979 vowing to root out establishment corruption and win the first Republican majority since 1954…Zelizer’s witty, well-informed narrative occasionally bogs down in an excess of insider details, but successfully presents this episode as a foretaste of congressional warfare to come. Political junkies will be thrilled.”
Gingrich’s Thirst For Power
According to Zelizer’s account, Gingrich had acquired a thirst for political power by high school, announcing to a teacher that he intended to move to Georgia “to create a Republican Party.”
Even though, there was already such a party, that didn’t matter to Newt. He wasn’t in charge of it, and that was his first aim, certain as ever of the correctness of his views and the wrongness of his opponents. Gingrich learned valuable lessons in leadership style and strategy alike from Richard Nixon, whom he credits with having gone after the overlooked blue-collar (and traditionally Democratic vote), shunned by liberal/moderate wing of the GOP.
Gingrich also changed the terms of the argument from “establishment versus outsider, not liberal versus conservative.”
Burning Down The House, By Julian E. Zelizer, published on April 28,2020.
Politics is war without blood, said Mao, but Newt Gingrich emerges as red in tooth and fang in this thoughtful study of his politics in action. This is a masterfully written political road-map for anyone wondering how we got to where we are today, and what a bad place that is as a nation.
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