1998-11-07

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday November 7, 1998

Gingrich bows to party pressure: Failure to tame Democrats forces Speaker to step down

The dizzying turnaround in Bill Clinton’s fortunes was dramatically underscored yesterday when Newt Gingrich, who led the forces to impeach the U.S. president, decided to resign.

Gingrich’s decision came with stunning swiftness on the heels of an open declaration by frustrated Republicans to dump him as their leader.

“I will not be a candidate for speaker of the 106th Congress, ” Gingrich said in a statement. “The Republican conference needs to be unified and it is time for me to move forward, where I believe I still have a significant role to play for our country and our party.”

Republicans have been in an uproar since Tuesday when they failed to score electoral points despite a last-minute advertising blitz attacking Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

That failure launched a widespread movement to topple Gingrich and his lieutenants. But no one expected Gingrich to abandon a powerful post that effectively made him the president of the U.S. Congress.

“The one thing about Newt Gingrich is that he’s not a quitter, ” said shocked Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “That’s why this is so surprising.”

Gingrich, who had been considering a run for the presidency in 2000, was widely credited with wresting control of Congress from Clinton’s Democrats for the first time in four decades in what became known as the Republican Revolution in 1994.

“The reality is that we would not be in position of controlling the House if it weren’t for Newt Gingrich, ” said Republican congressman Peter King, who supported the movement to oust Gingrich. “But the reality was he became an ineffective leader.”

Gingrich’s consistently low approval ratings made him an ineffective stump campaigner for the Republicans. But few expected his resignation in a year that saw them come close to toppling Clinton.

Although Republicans still control the House and the Senate, the Democratic gain of five seats marked the first time since 1934 that the party in power in the White House added seats in the House in a mid-term election. That failure has been laid at Gingrich’s feet.

A little-known New Orleans congressman, Bob Livingston, who described himself as a “dear friend” of Gingrich, took his stealth campaign against the Republican House leader public yesterday. Livingston said he will challenge Gingrich for Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“I don’t do so lightly, I don’t do so cheerfully, but I do so resolutely, ” Livingston said. “No one has been more loyal to him as Speaker.”

Another rebellious Republican, former NFL football star Steve Largent, said he would join Livingston in the post-election revolt by challenging Gingrich loyalist Dick Armey for the post of House majority leader.

“The Republican party hit an iceberg” on election day, Largent said. “I think the question that is before our conference today is whether we retain the crew of the Titanic or we look for some new leadership, ” Largent said.

The warring among Clinton’s foes came a day after Republicans announced a significant retreat in their effort to impeach Clinton, and Paula Jones and her lawyers also appeared to be squabbling among themselves.

“Obviously, Democrats are sitting back and smiling, ” Democratic consultant Chuck

Todd said, referring to the chaos among Republicans.

Less than 48 hours after a five-seat swing to the Democrats, the Republican controlling the judiciary committee, Henry Hyde, annou nced a fast-track impeachment inquiry timetable that would make Ken Starr the only significant witness. (Hamilton Spectator, D6, 11/7/1998)

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