In an excerpt from their book "The Meanest Man in Congress: Jack Brooks and the Making of an American Century," authors Timothy and Brendan McNulty explain how disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) forever changed the House of Representatives from a deliberative body into a chamber of dysfunction occupied by showboating Republicans derailing legislation by attacking their Democratic peers.
In the piece, which can be found at the Daily Beast, the authors explain, "Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia was a rising star in the GOP by 1987, either despite or because of his aggressive political tactics toward other members."
"Almost as soon as the Georgian had entered the House in 1979, he began making ethics charges against colleagues for alleged improprieties, notably against Barney Frank and Charles C. Diggs," the report continues. "In addition to personally spearheading these investigations, he transformed the speech of the political right from pointed rhetoric to sheer vitriol, referring to past and present Democratic speakers of the House as 'crooks,' 'traitors,' and 'thugs.' This kind of personal attack against the opposition and even fellow Republicans would be seen again and again in the rise of other ambitious politicians in the years ahead."
Printing out that Gingrich -- in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation -- once described his strategy as “This war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars,” the authors note that Gingrich's style left more establishment GOP lawmakers appalled, but unable to stop him.
"This was a new kind of slash-and-burn politics that left even Republicans aghast. Senator Bob Dole refused to shake Gingrich’s hand on stage," the authors explain. "'Newt was willing to tear up the system to get the majority,' Trent Lott, the Republican whip from Mississippi said. 'It got to be a really negative pit over there, but that was probably the beginnings of the Republicans being able to take control.'”
To do his dirty work, Gingrich, instituted a political action committee dedicated to pushing out inflammatory accusations against liberals and moderates alike.
"Gingrich took the reins of a political action committee (PAC) dedicated to helping Republicans win elections. Soon thereafter, the PAC issued materials advising others to 'speak like Newt,' using words like 'decay, traitors, radical, sick, destroy, pathetic, corruption, and shame' when referring to Democrats," the authors assert.
Gingrich also took advantage of the fact that the cameras trained on the House floor were kept on even when the chamber was empty, giving him the opportunity to launch his attacks when no one else was present while giving the impression that his words were being met with silent approval.
"Gingrich and the others would approach the dais and deliver fiery speeches against the sins of liberalism. As a measure of courtesy, other members were supposed to receive notification about any continued talks on the floor, but many suspected that these notices did not always arrive in time," the excerpt explains. "In one particularly egregious instance, in 1984 Gingrich accused several (absent) Democrats of being 'blind to Communism' and challenged them to step forward and defend their positions if they could. No one did, because the room was empty, save a few teenaged congressional pages."
You can read more here in detail about how Gingrich's bullying tactics -- still in use today by Republican lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GSA) -- helped bring down two Democrats who ascended to Speaker of the House.