Bringing Down the House G.O.P. Guerrilla

Newt Gingrich rides a surge of voter anger, but where does he want to go with it?

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In the end, his ideas, which don't often come to grips with the particulars of policymaking, may be less important than his signature mood of righteous belligerence. Voters are bursting with frustration. Gingrich offers to explode on their behalf. Where the blast could send him on any given issue is a detail to be taken up later, though rightward is always the general direction. So Newt's followers among this year's crop of congressional candidates can include Jo Baylor of Austin, Texas, a pro-choice black woman with strong feelings about private property, and Steve Gill in Tennessee, who wants to make Congress a part-time citizen legislature.

How that translates into policy, the nation will soon get to see. Even with slim Democratic majorities, a newly enlarged force of Republicans will join forces with conservative Democrats to leave the President with a bitter choice between chronic confrontation and constant compromise. It was, after all, a Congress controlled by Democrats that tore apart his economic-stimulus package, slapped his crime bill nearly to death and knocked off health care. It's easy to predict what the President is in for. "He has to decide," says Gingrich. "Does he want to cooperate with a rising populist majority, or does he want to go down in history as the last defender of the old order?"

The Democrats may be reluctant to play along, however. They remember too well how Gingrich relished filling the role of Godzilla for the Clinton White House, stomping on almost everything they set out in front of him. He not only masterminded the plot to defeat the crime bill, but in the final days of the last session of Congress took the risk of scuttling a measure to reform lobbying rules that looked like the very thing voters have been crying for. It didn't matter: block that kick was the name of his game, and Gingrich is satisfied that Democrats got the worst of it. "They just stumbled out of that session," he says.

Gingrich would argue, with some justification, that much of the blame for the gridlock of the past year belongs to Democrats who rarely made a serious effort to bring Republicans into legislative negotiations until the last minute. (The conference committee that wrote the final version of the crime bill, for instance, didn't bother to distribute the enormous thing until the night before the House Democratic leadership had scheduled a crucial committee vote on whether to send it to the floor for passage.) But Republicans in both chambers -- Gingrich included -- know that if they hope to regain the White House, they can't merely play the role of obstructionists for the rest of Clinton's term. "The central lesson is that the Republicans are going to have to share responsibility for governing," says senior Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos. "They're not going to be able to get away with the scorched- earth politics of the last few weeks of this session."

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