In the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 4, 1998, I stood in the back of a small ballroom at the Cobb Galleria Center. At the front of the room was a podium, stage, and backdrop emblazed with “America’s Victory.” At the podium was House Speaker Newt Gingrich answering questions about the previous day’s midterm election results.
Newt went into Election Day with 228 Republicans in the majority. With President Bill Clinton’s second term approval ratings tanking due to the Monica Lewinsky and other scandals, Newt was predicting he would finish the elections with a majority approaching 250. Instead, as results came in from across the country, scandal weary voters took it out on the GOP rather than the Democrats and Newt was looking at a smaller majority of 223. When asked by CNN who was to blame for the election losses, Newt accepted it, “I’m Speaker. I’ll take the responsibility.”
I turned to my colleague and said, “We won’t last a week.”
We lasted two more days.
Friday, November 7 was our day off having worked nearly non-stop through the 72 hour campaign and the fallout from the election results. Relaxing and recovering, I had turned my pager off when I received a phone call from a friend of mine from the UGA College Republicans, “What’s happening with Newt?” he asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. “It’s all over CNN he replied. Newt’s resigning from Congress!”
I flipped on my tv and sure enough, the anchors were discussing rumors that Newt, who was already facing a challenge to his re-election for Speaker, had decided not only to not stand for a third term as Speaker, but to leave Congress completely. I turned on my pager and instantly it went off. I called the office and was told to get to the office on Roswell Road in Marietta immediately.
When I arrived, most of the staff was already there. Newt was on a conference call with the House GOP caucus explaining the reasons behind his decision. He had decided he was too much of a lightening rod and, even if he remained in the House under a new Speaker, the Democrats would still use him to attack the GOP majority. He would finish his term as Speaker, but not take the seat he was just re-elected to when the next Congress convened in January.
On Wednesday, November 11, a week after the post-election press conference, former State Senator Johnny Isakson announced he would be running in the soon to be announced special election in the Sixth District seat Newt was vacating.
We finally closed the office the last week of January, 1999.
Newt Gingrich, the author of the Contract with America and the man who led the GOP, which had not had a House majority in two generations, out of the political wilderness, bowed out of the fight to keep his position as Speaker for the good of the House, the Republican caucus, and the nation.
It’s time, past time, for the Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wing of the caucus to do the same.
Yesterday, it seemed that Jim Jordan (R-OH) had read the writing on the wall after coming up shorter in the second vote than he did in the first one and was willing to back a bipartisan plan to give more authority to Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry (R-NC) to move legislation for the rest of the year, a move that former Speakers Gingrich and Boehner have publicly backed, but today Jordan tried to take another bite at the apple. The result this morning was the gap spreading even more in the third failed attempt as Jordan lost by 25 votes, despite having ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy give his nominating speech. After his third failed vote on the House floor, the Caucus met and by secret ballot eliminated Jordan as a candidate for Speaker.
Kevin McCarthy in speaking for the chosen candidate of those who ousted him showed the leadership and humility that has made this nation great. Gaetz and his ilk have yet to follow suit.
As Buzz noted in his post yesterday, part of the problem is those Republicans who are not backing Jordan have been inundated with calls from activists, many of whom are not constituents, demanding they back Jordan of face dire consequences. Georgia Congressman Drew Ferguson has received death threats after switching from voting for Jordan on the first ballot to voting for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) on the second ballot.
Threats, including death threats, are sadly not new in politics. I remember a Republican State Senator telling me he changed his position on changing the Georgia flag in 2001 because he got tired of looking under his car to see if someone had placed a bomb there. He was against changing the flag, but the Flaggers, supporters of keeping the Confederate Battle Flag on the Georgia State Flag, for some reason refused to get the memo and went after him with threats.
The most high profile threat I received was a threatening phone call from attorney Lin Wood after I Tweeted he had both a long record of voting Democrat and voting absentee while Wood was encouraging Republicans not to vote absentee or vote for Senators Loeffler and Perdue in the runoff. I also received voicemails from people as far away as the State of Washington with threats because of that Tweet.
This latest round is a direct result of something our Founding Fathers feared, faction that has resulted in a tyranny of the minority. In this week’s PeachPundit the Podcast, former State Rep. turned Editor-in-Chief Scot Turner noted that he was not a fan of the late Speaker David Ralston, but always voted for Ralston on the House floor. The place to show division is in the caucus meeting, but once the caucus by majority vote has made a decision, then the caucus unifies around their chosen candidate.
This also happens after every primary. That’s why as a Marco Rubio supporter in the 2016 Presidential Primary, I rallied behind and encouraged others to rally behind Donald Trump as the one who had received the majority of the votes from our GOP primary voters. Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Lin Wood, and others in the MAGA movement have given me and others license to take my ball and go home if the vote doesn’t go the way I want.
However, as we are a Republic that’s history is making decisions on democratic principles by majority vote, as an American, I will politely decline to accept that license.
Both Hamilton in Federalist 9 and Madison in Federalist 10 warn about the dangers of factions in the survival of the Republic. Madison noted, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.”
In the case of the House Speaker’s dilemma, the House has been paralyzed by a small faction within the narrow majority of Republicans. More so, both sides seem focused on the stalemate rather than putting factions aside and finding consensus. Scalise may have been that consensus, but that option has passed. Patrick McHenry is an option, but the key person against that option is McHenry himself who has bristled at the idea of being Speaker.
The Republicans need to find the other option.
Each semester, I tell my American Government students that our institutions are built on the idea that, even if we are on the losing end, we agree to follow decisions we see as legitimate. That’s why the left and right both fundraising off spewing doubts on the validity of elections is so dangerous to our Republic. If we don’t believe in the legitimacy of the process, we are less likely to believe in the legitimacy of how decisions are made. For over 200 years, the majority party has caucused and elected someone to stand as Speaker. That was thrown out when Congressman Matt Gaetz and a handful of others turned against 200+ years of precedent and threw out Kevin McCarthy, and then fundraised off it.
While Gaetz’s actions have lauded him as a hero to MAGA, he in that instant showed himself as unworthy to not just be part of the House Republican Caucus, but the House itself. What he and the others did was so fundamentally unAmerican that Newt Gingrich has even called for the expulsion of Gaetz from the House of Representatives.
In Georgia, we have two members of the General Assembly from that wing, Sen. Colton Moore and Rep. Charlice Byrd, both of whom have put their own, personal political interests ahead of their colleagues and the majority of the wishes of their caucus. Like Gaetz, the actions of Moore and Byrd have resulted in threats against other members of their caucus.
Like Gaetz, both should be expelled.
Our Constitutional Republic has always faced the threat imposed by self-serving politicians, from all sides of the aisle, and certainly those mentioned above not the first and won’t be the last, but it brings to mind the words of our Founding Fathers who believed only a moral free people could govern themselves. More than that, it echoes Benjamin Franklin’s warning when after the Constitutional Convention he was asked by Elizabeth Willing Powel, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
“A Republic,” he responded, adding, “If you can keep it.”
Let’s hope in the face of these present struggles, we will be able to keep it.