Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party

Julian E. Zelizer. Penguin Press, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-1-59420-665-8
Today’s hyperpartisan politics can be traced to Republican congressman Newt Gingrich’s 1989 ouster of Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, according to this meticulously researched account. Zelizer (coauthor, Fault Lines), a professor of history at Princeton University, sketches Gingrich’s working-class background, frustrated career in academia, and two failed attempts to flip Georgia’s sixth district from blue to red. Victorious on his third try, Gingrich entered Congress in 1979 vowing to root out establishment corruption and win the first Republican majority since 1954. Weaponizing post-Watergate reforms and skillfully framing his narrative in the media, Gingrich, according to Zelizer, transformed accusations that Wright had been involved in shady oil deals and had schemed to get around limits on how much he could earn from speaking fees into the appearance of corruption. After Wright resigned his speakership and then his seat in Congress, Gingrich orchestrated the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 before being forced to resign his own speakership following an ethics reprimand and the disastrous 1998 midterms. Zelizner’s witty, well-informed narrative occasionally bogs down in an excess of insider details, but successfully presents this episode as a foretaste of congressional warfare to come. Political junkies will be thrilled. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/12/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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