Who Killed Newt?

Who (or what) killed Newt Gingrich? (In case you haven’t heard, he’s stepping down from the speakership.) Tuesday’s election results would seem to be a referendum, at least in part, on Republican politicizing of the impeachment process. But as Paul Gigot pointed out today in the Wall Street Journal, Newt has been all over the map on this one, first pledging never to give a speech without mentioning Flytrap, then clamming up about it, and finally, after losing five House seats this week, blaming the press for being “obsessed” with it. By contrast, House whip Tom DeLay, the leadership’s most outspoken Clinton critic, is the one person whose continued presence in the leadership is considered a certainty.

The reason one hears cited most often is Newt’s caving in to Clinton on the budget, which still has many House Republicans seething. But Chatterbox thinks it’s highly unlikely that the loss of five Republican House seats has anything to do with a spending bill whose contents are a complete mystery to most voters. And if Newt was knocked off by the spending bill, how come the candidate who chased him out of the speaker race was Bob Livingston, the Appropriations chairman? Surely Livingston’s fingerprints are on at least some of the provisions that fiscal conservatives choked on.

Chatterbox’s best guess is that Newt lost the speakership a.) because practically no one in the House of Representatives, most especially House Republicans, can stand him personally; and b.) because there’s no point in putting up with him anymore if he isn’t delivering a bigger House Republican majority. That’s where the budget issue comes in. The leadership mantra when it was selling the budget deal to House Republicans was, Listen, just hold your nose and vote for this and after election day we’ll have a bigger majority and we’ll be able to do more of what we want. That didn’t happen, so everybody turned on Newt.

Timothy Noah