Dole, Gingrich: a Leadership Odd Couple : Congress: One’s a pragmatic legislator, the other a feisty ideologue. Insiders fear these two new GOP leaders may clash as much as they cooperate.
While Tuesday’s election results decreed that the House and Senate will be controlled by the Republican Party next year, there is still no guarantee that the leadership of the 104th Congress will speak with a single voice.
Indeed, the new governing majority on Capitol Hill is every bit as diverse and unpredictable as the Democratic regime it will supplant. And nowhere is that diversity so obvious as in the personalities of the two men who will lead the new majority: Newt Gingrich, the future House Speaker, and Bob Dole, the likely Senate majority leader.
Gingrich, 51, the conservative firebrand from Georgia who has been credited as the mastermind of the GOP’s monumental election victory in Congress, is the quintessential “new Republican.” As a longtime back-bencher and a member of a largely powerless minority, he has built his career on ideological bombast--savagely attacking opponents and challenging the time-honored traditions of Congress.
Kansan Dole is the product of another era.
A disabled World War II veteran, Dole, 71, previously has served as a leader and master legislator both in the majority and the minority in the Senate, and has also run for President.
While his dark wit makes him every bit as adept at attacking his opponents as Gingrich, Dole nevertheless possesses a pragmatic statesmanship and takes pride in passing legislation.
The fault line that divides Gingrich and Dole is not the same as the one that frequently separates moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party. While Dole was once viewed as a GOP moderate, his willingness to challenge President Clinton’s policies at every turn over the last two years has left no doubt about his conservative credentials.
Some say that Dole has been influenced in recent years by the Gingrich school of politics. Dole--like Gingrich--long ago rejected the genteel country club-style of Republicanism adhered to by their predecessors, such as retiring House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois.
Yet when it comes to leading the new Republican majority in Congress, many GOP congressional insiders fear that Gingrich and Dole may be like oil and water--constantly at odds over the style and direction of their party.
It is no secret on Capitol Hill that Gingrich and Dole have never seen eye-to-eye on much of anything. Back in the 1980s, when Dole still served on the Senate Finance Committee, Gingrich won the senator’s enmity by referring to him as the “tax collector for the welfare state.”
In advance of Tuesday’s election, the two Republican leaders sought to bury the hatchet. But their differences were so great that Rutgers political scientist Ross K. Baker described the meetings between them as “the equivalent of the Oslo meeting between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” which eventually led to the peace accord signed last year.
On top of their personal and political differences, political analysts noted that Dole and Gingrich will be leading remarkably different Republican armies into battle against the Clinton Administration.
After four decades in the minority, Gingrich’s House Republicans are likely to be pliant and ready to follow the dictates of the Speaker. Gingrich already has made it clear to his caucus that he expects every member to read from the script that he will draft for them.
Dole’s Senate Republicans, on the other hand, are harder to command. The variety of strong personalities includes such relics of a bygone era as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who is soon to be 92; such courtly, well-bred Republicans as Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), and a growing cadre of ex-House members who have been influenced by Gingrich’s desire for confrontation, led by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
While Dole still must satisfy the older, more traditional Republicans in his caucus, he also must placate the younger conservatives to stave off a possible challenge by Lott for the majority leader’s job.
In addition, there is the matter of Dole’s presidential ambitions.
While Gingrich finally will achieve the job to which he has long aspired, Dole’s aides say that their boss has never gotten over the disappointment of losing the GOP presidential nomination to George Bush in 1988.
If Dole decides to seek the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, as expected, it will instantly put him at odds with other GOP contenders, including Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), a former House member with political instincts akin to that of Gingrich.
For his part, Dole is said by close associates to view Gingrich as a politician with little or no appreciation for the art of legislating by compromise. While Dole’s fingerprints have been on virtually every major piece of legislation enacted in the last decade--including tax reform, immigration law and farm bills--Gingrich has no major legislative achievements on his resume.
A former history professor, Gingrich ran for the House twice from Georgia before being elected in 1978. From the start of his career in Congress, he made it clear that he was more interested in achieving a GOP majority than passing laws.
Gingrich’s strategy, which ultimately succeeded, was to challenge the Democratic majority at everything, large and small. His first big success came in 1989 when, largely as a result of Gingrich’s efforts, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) was forced to step down under an ethical cloud.
His cadre of followers, known as the Conservative Opportunity Society, quickly became a focal point for newly elected Republicans who dreamed of being in the majority. It was this group that propelled Gingrich into the leadership in record time.
By contrast, Dole’s political career has been more traditional.
He was elected to the Senate in 1968 after eight years in the House. President Richard Nixon appointed him in 1971 to head the Republican National Committee and he ran for vice president as President Gerald R. Ford’s running mate in 1976.
In Gingrich’s eyes, Dole represents the Establishment views that often have prevented the GOP from having wider popular appeal. Just recently, however, he allowed that Dole’s political views had matured lately in response to pressure from younger conservatives in the Senate GOP caucus.
On Friday, Dole and Gingrich will meet for the first time since the election in an effort to forge a working relationship. So far, both of them are pledging cooperation.