Revenge Of The Right

NEWT GINGRICH WAS PREPARING FOR THE LONG HAUL. That's what revolutionaries do, once they've stormed up the marble stairs and occupied the palace. Three days after the Republican right shook the nation, if not the world, their theoretician-in-chief was back in the Capitol. Surrounded by books and models of dinosaurs (he'd once wanted to be a paleontologist), gazing contentedly at the panorama of monuments on the Mall, Newt was examining every detail. No item was too personal, no goal to sweeping. To get in shape, he decreed, his daily schedule henceforth had to be built around 90 minutes of exercise. "No exceptions," he barked. When an aide offered a bagel with cream cheese, he waved it away contemptuously. "Just plain," he ordered.

Then to the laptop. A secretary tapped in his password and began entering his To Do list for the revolution. All bills to be posted on the Internet. The GOP's "Contract With America," Newt's 10-point anti-New Deal, to be voted on within 100 days. A "third wave" majority party to be assembled by issues and targeted "new media," not by the usual party to be assembled by issues and targeted "new media," not by the usual pork and patronage. A welfare state to be dismantled. The biggest pitfall? "Traditional Republicans," he snapped. They may "convince themselves that their acceptability to the old elite is more important than their acceptability to the American people."

The gravest danger is betrayal of The People's Revolution from within! V.I. Lenin couldn't have said it better, had he been a Republican-and he probably would have made the same call on the cream cheese. Seventy-seven years ago, almost to the day, Bolsheviks in Petrograd raced into the Winter Palace in the name of communism. Last week in one of the most profound electoral routs in American history, Republicans won the fight to occupy the Capitol and to mount what their more hyperbolic commanders think of as a counterrevolution: a full-scale attack on the notion that a central government should play a central role in the life of a nation. "It's the Russian Revolution in reverse," declared Republican strategist Bill Kristol. Great sound bite--and he meant it.

Two years ago Bill Clinton promised an administration that "looks like America," but America last week chose a Congress that looked and sounded like Rush Limbaugh: socially traditional, suburban and rural, anti-Washington, largely white and male, disgusted by federal claims to use tax money for the betterment of lives. The vote was national and deep, the rejection of Democrats total. Not a single Republican incumbent lost. The COP won not only the Senate and House but made huge gains in statehouses and legislatures as well. It was the biggest GOP sweep since 1946, when postwar America tossed out a Democratic Party that had trebled the power of Washington in the name of fighting Depression at home and fascism abroad.

Though Newt talks of revolution, most voters probably would settle for something more prosaic: a therapeutic shake-up on the Hill (fostering a lot of fear and loathing among ousted Democratic members and their lobbyist friends downtown), term limits, a balanced budget, new tax cuts for families, draconian crime measures, a serious revamping of welfare. But even that list--the core of Gingrich's "Contract With America"--represents, if seriously pursued, the most radical change in direction since FDR arrived in 1983. "I will cooperate, but I won't compromise," says Gingrich, an army brat who didn't serve. His role model is Ike, and this is total war. "I may fail, we may fail," he says. "But this is real. I am who I seem to be."

For now, Bill Clinton is immobilized, if not irrelevant- a presidential Gulliver tied down by Congress. His "cooperation" will be needed, and there are many Democratic votes to be had for some of the GOP agenda. But if Republicans are to succeed at government-by-Congress, most of their challenges are internal. They must resist the inertia and seductions of the capital, the cozy expense-account dinners. They will be threatened by radicals as much as by traditionalists. Only hours after the polls closed, for example, some of the wildest-eyed were musing aloud about invading Cuba (Sen. Jesse Helms) and abolishing the income tax (Rep. Bill Archer).

There are other dangers. In control of Congress for the first time since 1954, Republicans will be asked to serve their friends in big business, and could stir populist anger if they're too accommodating. Americans are no more fond of Wall Street than of Washington. The Democrats' "special interests" are soon to be replaced by an equally long list of Republican ones: agriculture, the oil industry, the gun lobby, the Christian right. Above all, the Republicans will run smack into the unspoken fiscal reality of public life. The "them" whose benefits the GOP will have to cut are, in most cases, the middle-class "us" in whose name the GOP counterrevolution was launched. "We need to move quickly," says Kristol, "but not recklessly."

Choosing between the quick and the reckless means tension, the internal strife that bedevils any new regime. Republican prospects rest on the savvy and intramural statesmanship of a trio of leaders who were hunkered down last week in an otherwise deserted Capitol: Gingrich in the House, Bob Dole and Phil Gramm in the Senate. The three men embody the history of the GOP's rise and turn to the right. Dole, an ally of Richard Nixon's, long ago helped undermine the old, liberal Eastern establishment of the party. Gramm and Gingrich represent a new GOP, based on antifederal (and initially racial) resentment in the South and which has expanded to conquer suburbs throughout the nation.

For now, the three leaders are comrades in arms. They are likely to join Clinton in pushing passage of a world-trade agreement in the lame-duck session this month, though Dole has voiced reservations. Come January., Newt's "contract" agenda will lead the way. Congressional reforms, term limits, a balanced-budget amendment-all should pass not only the Newtonian House but the Doleful Senate, "I think we can get all of that done," Dole laconically predicted. But beyond those items the three leaders have differing views and assessments of what happened last week. And there is another source of tension as well. Gramm and Dole are leading contenders for the right to challenge Clinton in 1996. Dole said last week he hadn't decided whether to turn down the job of Senate majority leader, as he would be pressured to do if he declares. Newt's support could be crucial.

Every insurgency has an insider, a useful but suspect eider statesman. That's Dole. He's been there, done that. Twenty-five years ago, he was the vicious partisan, de-tided as "Nixon's Doberman pinscher" in the Senate. Now he's the relatively mellow GOP leader with the best ties to Democrats and the least apocalyptic view. Dole's instincts and history are "green-eyeshade Republican," wary of supply-side economies, more interested in balancing the budget than in radically cutting government per se. Farm subsidies, for example, remain his idea of good policy.

In his Capitol suite last week he sat with tasseled loafers propped on a Louis XIV table, taking calls. From Asia, Secretary of State Warren Christopher called to pledge cooperation. ("I like Chris," said Dole. "One of the best guys they've got.") He laughed as he recounted how Robert Strauss, the Democratic super lawyer, playfully had demanded that Dole buy him lunch. Dole, ever cautious, sees no vast ideo-logical meaning in last week's election results. It was, he said, like the Watergate year of 1974, when Republicans were "the bums." Not one voter, he added, had mentioned having been inspired by Gingrich's contract. "People are not looking for miracles,' he added. In Bob Dole's world, they never are.

Gramm, a former Democrat, sees miracles every day in the market, and he claims to hate a government that stifles free enterprise. More angry than sunny, he's a transitional figure between the party of Nixon and the party of Reagan that now is back, this time with younger leadership. The head of the GOP's successful Senate campaign committee, Gramm can talk ideology with Newt and precincts with Dole--and is not eager to take a back seat to either. "Gramm is Gingrich without the techno-babble," says one GOP insider.

While Gingrich philosophizes, Gramm moves in for the kill. Gramm, too, was plotting in his office last week. When Clinton held his mournful press conference, Gramm was watching the shoe-box-size TV on his credenza. He regarded the tiny figure with a mix of amusement and disdain-the way the driver of a semi might view an armadillo on a Texas highway. Clinton gamely sounded the New Democrat centrist themes he ran on in 1992 (and mostly forgot about after he was elected). Voters want a "smaller government," Clinton said, one that "is not a burden to them, but that empowers them." Gramm shook his head in mock sorrow. "He just doesn't get it," said Gramm. "Government doesn't empower you," he proclaimed to the little TV screen. "Freedom empowers you!"

Gingrich is a sweeping, if overwrought, thinker whose interests range from prehistory to science fiction. He despises the "welfare state," but once campaigned for its leading Republican architect, Nelson Rockefeller. Now he wants Washington to punish, instruct and inspire: build more prisons, require the teaching of the Constitution, allow voluntary school prayer. "Don't think right or left, but forward," he lectures. What he really means is: I won't forget the religious right.

The young COP leaders pay homage to faith but rely on intellect. Clintonites are well-known, and much ridiculed, for their academic ties. But the "action intellectuals" with clout now are the new generation of Republicans in Congress. Born during World War II, they acquired Ph.D, degrees and pursued teaching careers before entering politics. The new crowd has no ties to the Ivy League or the politically correct dogmas developed there. Instead, their heroes are free-market philosophers from Adam Smith to E A. Hayek, and conservative British leaders like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

Gingrich, 51, was a history professor in Georgia who concluded that "America fell apart in 1967." Gramm taught economics at Texas A&M and keeps Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" next to the Bible on his desk. But perhaps the most unlikely new pol is Gramm's fellow Texan, Rep. Richard Anney of north Dallas. A decade ago he was teaching price theory in the economics department at North Texas State. Now he's about to become House majority leader, second in command to Newt and the designated bomb thrower when Gingrich is forced to play statesman. The lineup is no accident, says Gingrich. Intellectuals are always leaders of revolutions. And politics, in the age of talk radio, is as much about populax education as it is about doing favors.

These polemicists - especially Gingrich--are masters of "new media," which surround and weaken the grip of the national press. Newt propounds a world in which blast faxes, modems, satellite feeds and talk radio are the dedicated lines to the voters they want to reach. "Thirty percent of this country is capable of having an astonishingly detailed, third- and fourth-level discussion about issues," he says. Those are the votes he wants to win, and he bravely claims he doesn't need the traditional powers to do it.

Until last week the fashionable theory-even among conservatives--was that the right had blown it in the '80s. The COP, after the hapless presidency of George Bush, was a spent vehicle. Major parties would wither. Independent candidacies would multiply. That all still may come to pass. In the meantime, though, look what's happened. In Texas, George W. Bush is governor-elect-and far more conservative than his daddy. Republicans toppled the Democratic speaker, Thomas Foley, in Washington state, and Dan Rostenkowski in Chicago.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., on a sunny, quiet Friday morning, the first people Gingrich and his wife, Marianne, bumped into were Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni, a top aide to Armey's House Republican Conference. The streets were deserted, the members and staffers scattered for the election and the long Veterans Day weekend. But the four were on their way to work. They met on First Street NE, between the Capitol and the Supreme Court. Thomas and Gingrich commiserated over their rancid press coverage. But then they were visited by a political epiphany. "Here we are," Gingrich recalls saying. "You're on the court over here, and I'm going to be speaker over there. Do you think that is what they mean when they talk about a revolution?" And then they all had a good laugh.

SENATE                        OLD    NEW

Republicans                   44     53

Democrats                     56     47

HOUSE                         OLD    NEW[a]

Republicans                   178    227

Democrats                     256    199

Independent                     1      1

GOVENORS                     OLD    NEW[a]

Republicans                   20     30

Democrats                     29     17

Independent                    1      1

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