There are few people in modern political history who have done as much damage to our democracy as Newt Gingrich. As the prototypical, ideological Republican “bomb-thrower” who first came of age during the Reagan “revolution” in the 1990s, Gingrich ushered in and patented an era of hyperpartisan viciousness and crass, unrelenting political rancor that finally reached its apotheosis in a GOP now firmly under the thumb of Donald Trump. As a co-author of the Republican Party’s infamous 1994 Contract with America (a revenue-gutting, deregulatory attack on government programs recast by President Bill Clinton as a Contract on America), Gingrich established the standard legislative template for all future attempts by conservatives at governance (actually “non-governance”) while in the process turning the “government shutdown” deficit-scolding and brinksmanship into routine tactics for Republicans whenever a Democrat occupies the Oval Office.
Gingrich was and still is a nasty piece of work. He is notable for creating a smear lexicon that he encouraged Republicans to adopt in which Democrats were routinely labeled with such pejoratives as “sick,” “decay,” “corrupt”and “traitors,” while Republicans were urged to self-describe their proposals with noble-sounding words like “caring,” “principled" and “common-sense.” He was a primary motivating force behind the churlish, politically driven impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Facing a broadly based public backlash against both his party’s policies and his own abrasive personality, Gingrich was forced to resign as House speaker in 1998 and left Congress altogether the following year, spending his time as an erstwhile pundit on the conservative media circuit and regurgitating his ideas in high-priced speeches and insular, right-wing think tanks.
By all standards of human decency that should have been the denouement of all things Gingrich, but because the Republican Party as it stands today has few if any purported “thinkers” able to formulate even an excuse for public policy, he remains relevant as their “go-to” man. The benighted cruelty and criminal incompetence of the Trump administration offered Gingrich as an éminence grise, a chance to reaffirm his bona fides, and he immediately signed on to parroting Trump’s requisite Big Lie about election fraud. So when relatively hapless Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy needed help in preparing his minions for the 2022 elections, Gingrich was a natural choice. As reported by Jeff Stein and Laura Meckler for the The Washington Post:
Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and other members of House Republican leadership are also involved in the project, which is not expected to launch until the spring or summer.
As McCarthy himself told Breitbart last week, his Gingrich-inspired project for the midterms already has a working title: “We’ll come out with a Commitment to America … We’ve been working on policy.”
In today’s Republican-speak, “working on policy” translates into looting the country for profit; initiating pointless and distracting “Benghazi-style” investigations to harass, smear, and intimidate Biden administration officials and otherwise occupy the media, and exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by dividing and polarizing Americans as much as possible.
Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and “oversight” of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules.
Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election all but assured that Republicans now intend to present themselves as the party of education, if by “education” you meant the deliberate stoking of racial resentment among white parents and parents otherwise exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The party that featured anti-teacher smears as part of its national convention, consistently and deliberately downplayed teachers’ health and safety during the pandemic, and has spearheaded a longstanding effort to privatize and eliminate public education now seeks to portray itself as a defender of our public schools, specifically by way of appealing to parents of school-age children. Except the only “parents” it seems to want to pander to are the types of parents who enter school board meetings unmasked, screaming about their “freedoms” while complaining loudly about teachers who dare to provide students with historical context for this nation’s unique and long-standing embrace of virulent racism.
As Stein and Meckler point out, however, beyond pandering to disgruntled parents, there is little that Republicans can actually do to further degrade our public schools, as much as they might want to:
McCarthy has released a “Parents Bill of Rights” that would not make big changes in education but would send some new mandates to school districts, some of which duplicate actions that are already routine or covered by existing rules and laws ...
The document also asserts that parents have a “right to be heard.” School boards almost uniformly allow for public comment, though some have shut meetings down because of disruptions including screaming and threats of violence.
The curious love-hate relationship between Republicans and what they like to simplify in broad, ridiculous brush strokes as “Big Tech” is another “policy” area Republicans plan to exploit. But this is largely a matter of insider baseball barely comprehensible to a GOP rank and file thoroughly mesmerized by their smartphones and tablets. The party appears to have no problem with the tech monopolies their own party fostered for decades as long as they amplify GOP lawmakers; it’s only when tech behemoths attempt to place curbs on the GOP‘s now requisite hate speech that Republicans find these mammoth corporations not to their liking.
It’s difficult to take them seriously, and I frankly doubt anyone in Silicon Valley actually does. It’s also hard to take any anti-China stance seriously beyond its obvious pandering to Trump’s racist base, who appear to still believe that the minuscule possibility the COVID-19 virus originated in a lab somehow absolves Donald Trump of all the subsequent malfeasance in response to the pandemic that cratered his reelection in 2020.
One area where Republicans promise to effect big changes is in eliminating barriers to House members actually killing themselves: “[C]hanging congressional rules, such as by repealing mask mandates, removing magnetic scanners from the floor of the House and abolishing voting by proxy” are all in the works, virtually guaranteeing that their anticipated majority after 2022 winnows itself down a bit through natural selection. But beyond this, assuming they achieve a majority in one or even both chambers of Congress, the actual GOP agenda promises to be fairly threadbare, as any effort to cut taxes any further for the wealthiest Americans will inevitably run into President Biden’s veto pen. And until the Supreme Court effectively guts the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to function, Republicans’ ability to increase pollution though deregulation and accelerate global warming will also continue to be stymied.
In sum there’s not a great deal policy-wise for Gingrich or McCarthy to work with beyond criticizing the nation’s withdrawal from the 20-year Afghanistan war (a debacle that was scarcely mentioned during the two years Republicans enjoyed congressional majorities under Trump). Also, of course, everything about Hunter Biden, from his “mysterious” connection to Chinese businesses to his art deals with the Georges Berges gallery in SoHo. With Gingrich tending the till of an anticipated House majority, President Biden will doubtlessly be impeached … for something. Because the current leader of the GOP, Donald Trump, will demand it.
Of course, all of this will be happening in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Republicans at both the federal and state levels have all but ensured will continue at least through 2023. That’s the real wild card since any actions the GOP takes to further exacerbate the pandemic will be seen in light of what happens after omicron. The political fallout from a continued COVID-19 pandemic is unknowable at this point, but Republicans have already amply demonstrated they are completely incapable of formulating any policy response to it. So the focus for Gingrich and McCarthy will not be on policy, but on constant personal attacks and smears on Democrats and the demonization of the Biden administration. This has always been Gingrich’s modus operandi, and it is perfectly suited to a modern Republican Party that has long since abandoned any pretense of governance or concern for the well-being of Americans.
The first Contract on America essentially fizzled out with Gingrich, its proponent and co-author, blithely leaving the field and the cultural wreckage he wrought behind him. Contract on America 2.0 simply promises to pick up where he left off, albeit with a GOP even more morally bankrupt than in the 1990s. Any American concerned for the future of this country should hope that Gingrich’s second bite at the apple proves equally poisonous to himself and the party that spawned him.