From Gingrich to McCarthy, the Roots of Governance by Chaos

It was Mr. Gingrich, after all, who as a congressional candidate in 1978 told an audience, “One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.” A decade later, Mr. Gingrich coached his colleagues to cast the opposition as “the loony left,” saying, “When in doubt, Democrats lie.”

A decade after that, in 1998, Mr. Gingrich oversaw a multimillion-dollar ad blitz focusing on Mr. Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, while also telling supporters, “I will never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic.”

Mr. Gingrich’s arrival in Washington in 1979 happened to coincide with the installation that same year of C-SPAN’s cameras inside the House chamber, enabling once-obscure members of Congress to reach a national audience with combative monologues that dragged on into the night. “Gingrich was the one who understood how to use the C-SPAN cameras,” said Mark Sanford, a Republican member of the 1994 class. “And I’d say that was one of the tools that over time helped coarsen the process and led to this increasing degree of militarism we’re seeing.”

Though Mr. Gingrich and his two lieutenants, Dick Armey, the House majority leader, and Tom DeLay, the majority whip, preached ruthless partisanship, in the end, Mr. Gingrich was forced out of power by his fellow Republicans in 1998 after agreeing to a budget deal with Mr. Clinton. The party lost the House majority in 2006, “though frankly, even before then, the Gingrich faction did not feel that they had won when George W. Bush won, because they weren’t interested in his ‘compassionate conservatism,’” Mr. Hoyer recalled.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 thrust Mr. Gingrich back into relevancy. On the night of Mr. Obama’s inauguration, the former speaker gathered at a Washington steakhouse with a small group of desultory Republicans that also included a second-term congressman from California, Kevin McCarthy. It was Mr. McCarthy who, consulting his inner Gingrich, urged a hyperaggressive approach to Democratic control in Washington.

“We’ve got to challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign,” he told the steakhouse group that night.

Mr. Gingrich left the dinner feeling much encouraged. “You will remember this day,” he said to the others.

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