History Lesson

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

In the debate, Newt Gingrich said that voluntarily left the speakership as a way of taking responsibility for the party’s losses in 1998.  The contemporaneous record tells a different story. 

On election night, Gingrich told Peter Jennings: “Well, first of all, this is the first time in 70 years the Republicans have kept the House for three terms. So I think it’s a pretty good night . . . So I think as the only person in our lifetime to be elected Speaker — and I think I’ll be elected again in January for a third time — I actually feel pretty excited.”

By the end of the week, however, the New York Times reported:

By midday Friday, having tried everything from cocky optimism to naked threats, Speaker Newt Gingrich sounded uncharacteristically desperate in private pleas to his once euphorically loyal House troops that they not abandon him.

‘‘He said, ‘I’m in trouble,’ ‘‘ recalled Representative Mary Bono of the phone call Mr. Gingrich placed in extremis to her home in California. ‘‘And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re in serious trouble.’ ‘‘…

‘‘I told him I couldn’t support him, but I wouldn’t work against him,’’ Ms. Bono said, being kinder than other Republicans who, in Mr. Gingrich’s final telephone pleadings, did not call back their formerly irresistible leader.

In the wake of defeat, he wanted to hold his job. He jumped only because the party was about to push him out.

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