Friday, May 21, 2010

Newt's Babies vs. the Watergate Babies

A nice item from Hotline On Call this week by Reid Wilson noted that with the sudden demise of Mark Souder, there will only be nine Members of the House next year from the class of 1995 out of the 73 new Republicans elected in the 1994 GOP landslide.  I don't give Newt Gingrich much credit for the landslide (credit beyond the normal Republican gains to be expected that year given the Democratic president and large Democratic majorities should go mainly to Bill Clinton's self-inflicted problems, with secondary credit to Bob Dole's all-filibuster strategy in the Senate).  But the future Speaker, erstwhile snake-oil salesman, and general fraud was involved directly and indirectly in candidate recruitment, so in that sense it's not unreasonable to call them Newt's babies.

At any rate, it looks as if there will only be nine of them in the next House.  That doesn't strike me as very many, but they'll be joined by quite a few on the Senate side.  There are seven now, perhaps down to six when Sam Brownback leaves unless Todd Tiarht replaces him, although Richard Burr could lose, and it's not entirely certain that John Ensign will still be a sitting United States Senator next year.

It's not an especially distinguished group, I don't think.  Brownback has become something of a conservative leader, although I'm not aware of that being expressed legislatively to any great effect.  Tom Coburn and Lindsey Graham have both had significant Congressional careers.  Of the rest, and go to the link for the list, I'm not really aware of much -- although I should note that (1) it's very possible that one or more of these Members has been productive on the Hill and I've just missed it, and (2) there are another forty or so Newt Babies that have gone, but may have been productive before that.  Among them, Tom Davis and Ray LaHood both had, I believe, reputations as hard-working Members.  As far as I can see Davis is the closest that any of the 73 have come to House leadership position, having served two terms as NRCC chair.  That's fairly astonishing; one would think that a class that large would produce a Republican Leader, Whip, or at least chair of the conference, but unless I'm missing someone I don't think they have.  I do think that as a group they've been fairly impressive in their upward mobility, since over 10% have moved up to the Senate or become governor.  Others ran for higher office without winning. 

On the other hand...I did mention John Ensign and Mark Souder right?  The scandals of the Newt babies, from the infamous Enid Greene Waldholtz on, have always overshadowed their substantive accomplishments.  Guess who else is a Newt baby: that's right, your favorite Governor of South Carolina, Mr. Hiking the Appalachian Trail himself, Mark Sanford.  Mark Foley?  Oh yeah.  And that's not all. Dana Millbank counts 15 sex scandals, although it's not clear how he's counting.  It's not just sex, however.  Abramoff-related criminal Bob Ney is a Newt baby.

So the profile of the Newt babies seems to be heavy on ambition for higher office, but little interest in building a career in the House, and with more than a little scandal.  Surely they stack up badly next to the Watergate babies.  It's hard to imagine the Newt babies ever doing anything as productive as the class of 1975 did in this Congress, when several of them -- Waxman, Miller, Baucus, Harkin, Dodd -- capped off their careers with health care reform.  Watergate babies had some scandal, too, although I think quite a bit less.  Instead, there were a lot of serious legislative careers.  Oddly enough, the Watergate babies also did not produce a lot of House leaders (I don't think anyone reached as high as Democratic Whip, although I haven't checked a complete list for their success within the caucus). 

Of course, any similarity of the class of 1995 and Newt Gingrich in wild but unfocused ambition, lack of interest in the substance of governing, and/or scandal in private life is surely a coincidence.


  1. What "self-inflicted" problems were those, Jonathan?

    1994 GOP landslide: beyond the normal Republican gains to be expected that year given the Democratic president and large Democratic majorities should go mainly to Bill Clinton's self-inflicted problems, with secondary credit to Bob Dole's all-filibuster strategy in the Senate

  2. A massive clusterfuck of an attempt at HCR, an attempt to end the gay ban in the military that ended with the adoption of DADT, inability to handle the Whitewater and Travelgate "scandals," not one but two non-starter AG nominations (for semi-legit reasons). For starters. It was a real exercise in stumbling out of the gate.

  3. What Anon said. It was in large part a structural problem; they didn't get the White House right, most notably McLarty as CoS, but lots of other mistakes.

  4. As far as Justin Buchler and I are concerned, too much has been made of the notion of classes. We tried every variable we could think of and we couldn't find anything about the various cohorts that wasn't explained by their districts. Newt's babies, the Watergate babies, the famous class of '58, the COS class of '78...we tried every cohort claim we could think of (in fact, we compared every cohort to every other cohort) and couldn't find anything concrete for any of them.

    Which, I must say, surprised the heck out of us.


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