With the New Hampshire Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich as well as Gingrich’s rise in the polls, the former speaker has the momentum in the race for the White House, but is this a good thing?
Speaker Gingrich has many commendable points. He’s skilled at crafting conservative policy proposals and he is an accomplished debater and proponent of conservative ideas. Gingrich also deserves credit for working with President Clinton to pass welfare reform, and some credit for the balanced budgets that existed prior to 9/11. Conservatives remember Gingrich fondly for leading the GOP to victory with the Contract with America.
However, things did not go so well once Gingrich was in office. His troubled tenure from 1995-99 (which he at one point compared to being prime minister) as well as his post-speakership career raise several red flags that conservatives would be wise to consider:
1) Big Spending and Earmarks:
While Gingrich was speaker, Congress and the president balanced the budget. This did not come about through hard choices, but rather through a booming economy. As the information age dawned and the dotcom boom began, government coffers surged with revenues.
As part of the balanced budget agreement, Congress put in place spending caps. With the surge of revenue, Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott decided to break the spending caps that had been put in place in the balanced budget agreement and increased federal spending. This practice was continued under Gingrich’s successor, Dennis Hastert. The predictable result of the Republican Congress’ profligacy on spending was that once the dotcom bubble burst and economic growth slowed, the only way that Congress could afford to continue the increases they’d made in the good years of the economy was to run up deficits.
Gingrich’s speakership was dealt a telling blow as a result of his ineptness in negotiating the FY1999 budget which was passed a month before the 1998 elections and increased spending without delivering any major tax reductions. Then-Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) said voters complained to him that nobody read the bill and “the president (Clinton) got virtually everything he wanted.”
One part of Gingrich’s legacy that remained long after he left was the expanded role of earmarks in congressional politics. Gingrich doubled the number of earmarks in Congress and his office sent out memos encouraging the use of earmarks for protecting vulnerable members of Congress. The number of earmarks would eventually increase to 14,000 per year and would lead to the end of the Republican majority. While the greatest excesses did not occur during Gingrich’s speakership, the first steps toward the Republican train wreck of 2006 were taken during Gingrich’s tenure.
2) Dysfunctional Leadership and Failed Communicator:
If conservatives want lasting victories, they need to survive politically and communicate to the public well. During the government shutdown in 1995-96, Gingrich and the House Republicans failed to formulate an effective response to the Democratic message. Gingrich’s inexplicable statement that President Clinton failed to give him proper seating on Air Force One to a state funeral for Yitzhak Rabin only made the problems worse. Gingrich’s approval rating shrunk to a toxic 20% in the polls as a result of this failure.