Gingrich: His flashing star fades Speaker marginalized: Democratic ethics charges, GOP distancing after glory years.

September 22, 1996

NEWT! NEWT! NEWT! Remember those cries of adulation as Republicans two years ago took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades? The hero of the hour was their new speaker, Newt Gingrich, whose machine-gun oratory, ideological drive and tactical brilliance had secured for himself and his party a degree of power that was downright dazzling.

For a period during early 1995, it almost seemed that Newt Gingrich rather than Bill Clinton was president. It was he who was setting the national agenda, he who was commanding a "revolution" to get rid of the liberal welfare state and institute what he called an "Equal Opportunity Society."

Only later was it apparent he was over-extended in his ambitions, out-maneuvered by the president and perhaps the most disliked politician in America. Now, as his present term as speaker comes to an end, Mr. Gingrich is besieged by Democratic ethics charges that recall his own (successful) efforts to drive former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright from office.

Realizing that their case against Mr. Gingrich takes some edge off Republican attacks on Mr. and Mrs. Clinton over Whitewater and Travelgate, Democrats want the pre-election release of House Ethics Committee information on alleged Gingrich transgressions. They bring to this cause a fervor matched only by their criticism of Republicans for releasing documents damaging to the administration.

Just what do the Democrats have (or think they have) on Newt Gingrich? His acceptance of tax-exempt contributions to finance his televised politically motivated college courses; publication of his book by a broadcaster seeking deregulation; appeals from the floor of the House to support his political action committee (GOPAC), and his use of informal advisers in the work of his congressional office.

He already has been questioned by the Ethics Committee about the "appropriateness" of his actions, for creating "the impression of exploiting one's office for personal gain" and for "improper solicitation" for his political causes.

Whatever the Ethics Committee's final conclusions, the glory days of 1994-95 are over. The freshman congressmen who once adored him keep their distance as they seek re-election. Democrats think a Clinton landslide may return their control of the House. And even if Republicans remain in the majority, with Mr. Gingrich as speaker, he could continue to be the marginalized figure he is at present. As for his presidential pretentions, even he admits his current "negatives" are too large.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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