The Corner

President Gingrich?

Reihan Salam speculates about what-might-have-been. But I don’t think Salam quite gets what did the Gingrich of 1995-96 in. It wasn’t impolitic rhetoric–although that didn’t help. It was his strategic choices: fighting to restrain the growth of Medicare rather than, say, to abolish racial preferences. There was no constituency for reining in entitlements, and a substantial one for expanding them. Which is why Republicans since 1996, Gingrich included, have expanded them. And it wasn’t “throngs of backbench time-servers, happy to collect their checks and deliver heaping helpings of pork to Ma and Pa Median Voter, [who]disposed of Newt in the hopes of ending any unnecessary boat-rocking.” Gingrich was toppled by people to his right, led by Arizona congressman Matt Salmon. Gingrich had assumed that the Clinton scandal would lead to massive Republican gains in the 1998 elections, obviating the need for the party to run on issues. Republicans lost seats instead, and Salmon got enough congressmen to pledge not to vote for Gingrich as Speaker that he had to step down.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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