WASHINGTON: The anti-Newt rumbling on the Hill is getting louder. Two days after
the election in which they ended up down by five seats, House Republicans have
found a scapegoat in Speaker Gingrich - not to mention most of their leadership.
While the situation is extremely fluid, one proposed slate of candidates is
slowly gaining currency: Bob Livingston for Speaker, replacing Newt; Steve
Largent for majority leader, ousting Dick Armey; and Jennifer Dunn for
conference chair, knocking John Boehner aside. Tom DeLay, the party whip, would
keep his job. Livingston, currently the Appropriations committee chair, is
hardly anyone's idea of a 1994-style revolutionary. But the young rebels who
attempted to oust Newt in 1997 might be willing to support him as long as one of
their own -- Largent -- gets the number two spot. And Livingston does come with
some advantages: he can garner support from moderates and old guard chairmen as
well as the rebels.
The current leaders are checking their odor with members by phone; would-be
replacements are testing the waters for a challenge. But the key issue in the
upcoming leadership elections -- due November 18 -- is not whether Newt can
garner a majority among Republicans, but whether he could win all the
Republican votes when the speakership comes to a floor vote in January. The last
time, around six Republicans deserted Gingrich. If there
are more than six GOP turncoats this time round, the Speaker will have to step
down. Right now, however, it is unclear whether Livingston or anyone else will
have the courage to challenge Newt. As the now-departed Bill Paxon
knows, failure invites retribution.