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NOVEMBER 1998 | VOL. 2, NO. 6




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Bye of Newt


VICTORINO MATUS, the assistant editor of The Weekly Standard, is a contibuting writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.





Election '98:


In Donnie Brasco, Sonny Black (played by Michael Madsen) tells his underlings that being promoted to neighborhood boss isn't all roses. He needs to deliver tens of thousands of dollars each month to his superiors and if he comes up short, he'd be the one to get whacked, regardless of the power he wields. Now imagine Sonny Black not only coming up short but actually being in the red. It wouldn't be long before Sonny was sleeping with the fishes.

Newt Gingrich is Sonny Black. He not only promised a Republican gain in the House of plus five to plus fifteen, he ended up minus five - which no one predicted, especially in the sixth year of a scandal-ridden presidency. Traditionally, the opposing party in Congress has always made modest gains in the sixth year of the president. Republican leaders were so confident of this, saying you'd have to go all the way back to 1934 for the last time this hasn't happened. Now you'll only have to look to 1998.

Despite all their spinning that Republicans will have been in the majority for six years now, the GOP was, for all intents and purposes, crushed. They overplayed their hand (the Lewinsky scandal) and had no other clear message to back them up. They spent millions in a last-minute media blitz asking Americans whether they ought to reward Bill Clinton for lying or vote Republican. The problem is, most Americans did not link the Clinton scandal to how they'd vote for their local congressman. If anything, the harping of the advertisements created a backlash that would bring out the Democrats and their constituents in greater numbers. African American turnout, for one, was remarkably high and had an impact in House, Senate and gubernatorial races. Christian right turnout, on the other hand, was relatively light. In the end, the Senate remained static with Republicans 55, Dems 45 (dashing the GOP's hopes of a filibuster proof majority of 60, and far from the 67 votes needed to convict the president in an impeachment trial). The Republican majority in the House dwindles to a mere dozen (223-211) and down one among the governors though it still commands with 31 to 17.

Someone needed to take the fall. And three days after the election, it became clear the fall guy would be Newt Gingrich, the ex-history professor-turned- Republican revolutionary (who incidentally appears in this month's "Men's Health", if you can believe it) who presided over the first Republican House of Representatives in over forty years. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Many on the Right were tired of Gingrich, the bad press heaped on the party via his ego, and the lack of leadership he and his cohorts provided. Last year, a coup attempt led by Congressman Bill Paxon and some of Newt's closest allies almost brought him down. The plot failed when some of the ringleaders (namely Dick Armey) caved-in and their cover was blown before enough votes could be garnered. Paxon was then stripped of his leadership role and resigned ostensibly to "spend more time with his family."

And now the scramble for Speaker of the House, third most powerful position, superseded only by president and vice president. Even before Gingrich announced he would not seek another term as Speaker, Rep. Bob Livingston declared he would challenge him. After Gingrich's announcement, even more power players emerged. Currently there are at least three members of Congress in the running. In addition, Representative Jennifer Dunne and Seattle Seahawks Hall-of-Famer Steve Largent are challenging Dick Armey for House majority leader.

Meanwhile in the Senate, things will most likely remain static. The trade-offs were as follows: Republicans lost two incumbents, Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and Alfonse D'Amato of New York. Faircloth, a hogfarmer who ultimately fell to a special-interest lawyer, Jim Edwards, lost by a slim margin of 51% to 47%. "He can go back to live with the pigs!" said D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (Faircloth had stripped the mayor of his responsibilities). D'Amato had lost substantially to Brooklyn Congressman Chuck Schumer 54% to 45% after eighteen years as Senator Pothole. And while Republicans lost a seat in Indiana due to a retirement, they gained in Ohio, Illinois, and Kentucky (yet another Hall-of-Famer, Jim Bunning, who once pitched a perfect game for the Phillies in 1964).

Perhaps the most damaging consequence of the elections for the GOP were among the governors. Indeed, while Republicans decreased their hold by only one, they lost the crucial governorship of California after 16 years of Republican control. By the time we reach the 2000 presidential election, Democratic governor-elect Gray Davis will have presided over key redistricting that will put Republicans at a disadvantage. Moving the California primaries to early March, it will also not give them much time. And winning the presidential election without California will be next to impossible.

On the brighter side, both George W. Bush and his younger brother Jeb won the governorships of Texas and Florida respectively. And here you find the silver lining, the GOP's glimmer of hope for 2000. The Bush boys are popular among conservatives, moderates, and minority groups alike. In a few years, Hispanics will have become the largest minority in the country. Both Bush brothers, fluent in Spanish, carried significant portions of the Hispanic vote this go around. By next spring, George W. Bush will announce his candidacy for president of the United States. Pretty soon, there could be a new sheriff in town. Come to think of it, Newt sleeping with the fishes isn't such a bad idea after all.

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