GOP Elects Gingrich as House Whip : Confrontational Conservative Wins Party’s No. 2 Post

Times Staff Writer

Frustrated by decades of Democratic domination, House Republicans Wednesday elected confrontational conservative Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia to their second-ranking leadership post over the opposition of House Republican leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois.

Backers of Gingrich said that his 87-85 victory over the more traditional and less colorful Rep. Edward R. Madigan (R-Ill.) reflected a widespread demand for more aggressive tactics in dealing with the Democratic majority.

An elated Gingrich, contrasting his strategy to the current Republican approach, said that it would be “closer to a UCLA full-court press.”

Gingrich’s new title is minority whip, the post held by Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming until President Bush named him defense secretary.


Not Seeking ‘Nice Guys’

Gingrich’s backers rejected the view that the minority Republicans must cooperate with Democrats to influence legislation, as Madigan often did as a member of the Agriculture Committee. “Ed Madigan is a nice guy,” said Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.). “And nice guys aren’t what we were looking for.”

Michel, clearly downcast by the defeat of Madigan, said that he would “go with the flow” and make changes where necessary in the Republican high command. But he also noted that a minority party with 80 fewer votes than the Democrats must carefully select the issues where it can fight and have a chance to win.

Democratic leaders were quietly jubilant at Gingrich’s success. They view him as the Republican most likely to unify the often-splintered factions of their party if he continues his highly partisan attacks in his new post.


It was Gingrich who filed the charges that have led to a House Ethics Committee investigation of the financial affairs of the House’s leading Democrat, Speaker Jim Wright of Texas.

“We’re obviously going to have a delicate and difficult relationship at best,” Gingrich said of the Speaker.

For the record, Wright extended congratulations and best wishes to Gingrich. Told that Gingrich had promised to treat him with courtesy, however, Wright laughed before saying: “I look forward to that.”

Foley Avoids Prejudging

House Democratic Leader Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said that he would not prejudge Gingrich, who has charged that the Democrats are run by a “corrupt, left-wing machine.”

But Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), who ranks third in the Democratic leadership behind Wright and Foley, could hardly conceal his joy at Gingrich’s selection, calling it “manna from heaven.” He said that Democrats could exploit Gingrich’s ultraconservative positions on Social Security and other issues now that he is in the GOP hierarchy.

Coelho, who as majority whip will be Gingrich’s counterpart on the Democratic side, pointed out that Gingrich’s job will be to count votes and build coalitions with members of the other party. “He can no longer bomb bridges, he has to build bridges,” Coelho said.

Even Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), who voted for Madigan out of home-state loyalty, said that Gingrich won because of his hard work, enthusiasm and ability to command media attention. “Of course, if you live by the press, you can die by the press,” she noted.


Some Are Dismayed

Some Republicans, however, were dismayed by the outcome. Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) said that it was a “tragedy” to divide the minority party over the whip contest. Other GOP veterans complained that Gingrich was largely untested in legislative negotiations and the intricacies of counting how Republicans would vote on closely contested bills or amendments.

“I have a lot to learn about the inside game,” acknowledged Gingrich, a former history professor better known as a debater and gadfly than a craftsman familiar with the nitty-gritty details.

Gingrich, seeking to reach out to moderates in his party, arranged for veteran Rep. Bill Frenzel of Minnesota to nominate him for the whip’s job, with seconding speeches by Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt of Arkansas, a friend of President Bush, and the widely respected Rep. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

‘He’ll Mature’

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a staunch conservative, predicted that Gingrich would do well in the whip’s job. “He’s smart enough to know we have to achieve, not just fight. You can say what you want about Newt, but he’s smart. He’ll mature to the job,” Hyde said.

After his election, which was greeted with whoops and hollers in the staid Republican Capitol Hill Club two blocks away from the Capitol, Gingrich promised to be a team player. He said that his victory was not a rejection of the way the more easy-going Michel has led House Republicans.

“If the question had been a test of Bob Michel’s leadership, I wouldn’t have got 40 votes,” he told reporters.


As Gingrich defined it, the issue was whether to build a “much more aggressive, more activist party” in the House, where Democrats outnumber the GOP by 258 to 174, with three vacancies.

“It’s very hard to be a Republican in the House,” explained former Rep. Jim Jones (D-Okla.). “You’re not in charge and never will be in charge. . . . Those Republicans elected in the Reagan era are very conservative firebrands who insist that their leaders be confrontational.”

NEWT GINGRICH Born: June 17, 1943, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Home: Jonesboro, Ga.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Emory University, 1965; master’s degree, Tulane University, 1968; doctorate, Tulane University, 1971.

Political career: Ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1974 and 1976 in Georgia’s 6th District. Elected to the House in November, 1978.

Positions: Member Committee on House Administration, Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Co-founder of the Conservative Opportunity Society.