Newt to U.S.: You won't have me to kick around any more

Jerry Brown, Christopher Hitchens, Maxine Waters, Dan Schnur, David Horowitz and Mark Hertsgaard react to Newt Gingrich's stunning announcement that he will not stand for reelection as Speaker

By Salon Staff

Published November 6, 1998 12:03PM (EST)

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Dan Schnur, California GOP strategist

Everyone is still stunned, but as the shock wears off, grass-roots Republicans are going to realize that it was the right thing to do. Newt Gingrich is the leader who brought Republicans back into power. He played an extraordinarily important part of American political history and the growth of the Republican party. But, if you'll forgive me, there's a parallel here from Exodus: Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, but he couldn't bring them into the Promised Land.

The impetus behind the revolt was Gingrich's inability to push a policy agenda over the course of the fall. The Republican message was all about the scandal and not about issues. To be fair, most Republicans thought that the scandal was going to be the key to the election for us.

Gingrich has accomplished incredible things for this party, but in the process he has become the most unpopular politician in America. The Democrats have spent millions of dollars demonizing him and it's not fair, but that's the way life works. Having a new face on the national Republican party can't help but to be for our benefit. Gingrich was a master strategist who brought Republicans the majority status, but it's become clear that the next generation of leadership is going to have to institute a strategy for governing.

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Christopher Hitchens, author and columnist

[Resigning] is really the only principled action he's ever committed.
He made a terrible mistake. He could have resigned when people would ask
why instead of why not? He left it until the why-not era was well
under way. If he hadn't resigned, he would have been pushed. There was no
honor in the departure as there was none in the tenure.

I don't think [House Majority Leader Dick] Armey is as responsible for the humiliation of the GOP as
Trent Lott is. I don't think on the House side anyone is as responsible as
Gingrich. The whole of his life is one of the classic human examples of the
false alarm -- but never more than since his "Republican Revolution." In
the annals of the guy who wasted everybody's time and pumped up
expectations and who was a bulbous egotist and a general wanker, there are
very, very few comparisons. He is the Clinton of the GOP and I cannot put
it more meanly than that. Though he is the Clinton of the GOP, he at least
had the grace to go and the Republicans at least had the balls to make him
go. The Democrats, unfortunately, can't claim that.

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Jerry Brown, mayor-elect, Oakland, Calif.
This will remove a major bogeyman for the Democrats -- and that might not be such a good thing for them. You know what H. L. Mencken said: Politics is the art of shushing away bogeymen. So it's not at all clear that it's a plus for Democrats.

No, I wasn't particularly happy about the election results. What policies was it about, except for maybe a meaningless assault rifle ban and abortion? They didn't reach out toward the overarching challenges facing end-of-century America: the plight of the cities, of poor people of color; the continuing growth of inequality, in the midst of affluence; the deterioration of life-support systems on the planet -- which Democrats aren't ever gonna talk about.

So it's a tactical adjustment, and not any kind of an interruption of the overall drift. The Republicans have been captured by a small group of right-wingers, but the Democrats occupy the position the Republicans used to -- the party of the corporations, doing their business. The Republicans got off the reservation, and they're being spanked. But the corporations are still being well represented. There's really been no interruption of the rightward drift of the country since the first days of the Bush administration. Who pushed welfare reform? Who's responsible for an anti-terrorist bill that can lock people up without letting them look at the evidence? The Democrats.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
I am just delighted. They're completely falling apart. Bob Livingston is no better. He's trying to sound like a moderate but it won't work. They're just trading one bad leader for another. It won't solve their problems.

Gingrich can count, and he knew he didn't have the numbers. He would not have quit otherwise. Livingston's already got over 100 votes. Now Dick Armey's going to be replaced by Steve Largent [R-Okla.]. But their turmoil will not be silenced or stopped by a change in leadership. They're going to find out the American public is frightened by this right wing leadership. They associate them with the people who killed the abortion doctor in New York, and the ones who killled that poor gay man, Matthew Shepard. They can disclaim it all they want. But they're turning people off.

Yeah, I'm celebrating. I'm out here [in Los Angeles] trying to piece it all together. Now the Democrats are going to move on and do the people's business. I'm not expecting a change in leadership right now, but I am expecting the party to change to better reflect its minority base.

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Mark Hertsgaard, author and press critic

They say that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.

Part of what made Newt Gingrich so effective in Washington was his rather canny understanding of how to enlist the media -- even the media he repeatedly derided as "liberal" -- behind a political project that he controlled as speaker.

What's ironic now that he's stepping down is that he seems to have lost that touch recently. This decision to spend $10 million airing TV ads beating the dead horse of impeachment in the last days of the election is an action that can only be described as that of a politician absolutely tone deaf to the voice of average Americans beyond the insular circle of the Washington power elite.

In the end, he was tripped up by his own distance from the great American public he so often claimed to be inspired by.

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David Horowitz, author and Salon columnist

It's a smart move. When this man -- who has transformed the face of American politics, who is almost single-handedly responsible for welfare reform, for the balanced budget and the whole political environment we now operate in -- has also been the subject of the most extensive campaign to discredit a public figure witnessed in our lifetime, it's smart for him to go.

Last election, there were some 80,000 TV spots in the Democratic campaigns targeting Gingrich. There were some 300 ethics charges lodged against him, 299 of which were frivolous, one of which was barely more than frivolous.

As speaker, he's had to lead the most disparate coalition imaginable -- from libertarians to theocrats -- while always under attack. Besides, he's not really a politician. He's more of a rebel than a statesman. He is full of ideas and they pop out of him all the time. He hasn't had the latitude to make mistakes. He's been crippled for several years now, and without focus.

He's much more effective as a grass-roots leader. That's really what he is. I hope he will go back to doing that, to teaching Republicans how to conduct their campaigns. I hope he devotes himself to helping transform this party. It's in transition, the GOP. It's not really the party most Salon readers think it is, a party of businessmen and accountants. It is a party of grass-roots Goldwaterites, reformers.

But unlike Democrats, the Republicans appear to be businessmen and accountants. They do not know how to position themselves.

Newt Gingrich is responsible for a number of historic achievements. He is a creative visionary, an extraordinary figure who will be seen as such as we look back on the last decade of this century.

Salon Staff

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