Matt Towery

So why was it the Republicans in 1998 decided that Newt Gingrich had to go as U.S. speaker of the house?

The continuing crisis over former Florida U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with teenage pages and the handling of the situation by current House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois jogs my memory back to November 1998.

That's the day Newt Gingrich, the man whose political campaigns I had chaired for years, suddenly resigned from Congress altogether.

I fumed when he had to step down. I fume still. Now I get to unload on the GOP ingrates who turned on the only Republican in my lifetime, other than Ronald Reagan, to have original political ideas.

The day Gingrich resigned, I left early in the morning to take my family to our mountain house. Everyone in his office said Gingrich had the votes to remain as speaker.

What many don't know is that Gingrich, when he first moved into my North Atlanta district in 1992, was not popular even with Republicans. A group of us, who had established constituencies in the area, pulled every string and made every connection possible to help barely lift Gingrich past a virtually unknown opponent in the congressional Republican primary. It proved well worth the effort.

I then witnessed the effort of Gingrich and a devoted cadre of progressive conservatives to reinvent public policy programs, culminating with the Contract with America.

I wanted to strangle Newt when he resigned. But his explanation to me made sense -- it wasn't worth continuing the fight for true reforms if he had to also fight Republicans lacking the intestinal fortitude to see them through.

Now, with the GOP House polling lower all the time over everything from Mark Foley to ethics to the federal budget, I ask again: Why did Newt Gingrich have to resign?

He didn't have to and shouldn't have. I'm not judging Gingrich, but I'm about to judge some accepted history.

Current research of that time mostly assures us that Gingrich's plunge in popularity was largely a result of his showdown with President Bill Clinton, which forced a "government shutdown," and, subsequently, Gingrich's alleged irritation at having to exit Air Force One from the rear of the plane when it returned from Israel.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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