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March to the Majority
The Real Story of the Republican Revolution
With Joe Gaylord
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New York Times bestselling author Newt Gingrich takes readers behind the scenes of the Republican Revolution in 1994 and the rise of the modern GOP to show how we can lead America toward a more conservative, prosperous future.
The story of Gingrich’s rise from college professor, to architect of the Contract with America, to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is historic. There were many adventures, personalities, missteps, and victories on the road from a seemingly permanent House GOP minority to the first Republican majority in 40 years. These untold stories and inspiring lessons about the rise of modern conservatism are immensely relevant today as the United States faces profound and extraordinary challenges.
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich joins with former National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Joe Gaylord to bring alive the stories, events, and activities that led to the Contract with America and the first re-elected Republican majority since 1928. No two people are better positioned to tell this story than Gingrich and Gaylord. They were there, and they got it done.
Gingrich and Gaylord share never-before-told stories about:
- Ronald Reagan
- Richard Nixon
- Tip O’Neill
- George H.W. Bush
- Bill Clinton, and other fascinating political figures
March to the Majority is not only about the past, but also about the challenges our nation faces today and offers principles for governing the American people.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Election night in 1994 was glorious. We had set up our war room at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta to get returns from individual campaigns across the country. The early results were promising, but we waited until we crossed the 218-seat margin before claiming victory about 1:30 a.m. on November 9, 1994.
When we realized we had finally reclaimed a Republican majority in Congress after forty years of Democrat rule, the party began. Sean Hannity hosted the election night event. (He worked for WGST-AM in Atlanta, but he became a great friend and personally volunteered to emcee our election night event.) It was a remarkable evening that will always be fixed in our minds as a moment when everything was good and working. A better future for America was in the wings, and it set the stage for an enduring Republican majority that lasted a dozen years.
But that’s not really what this book is about. This book is about reaching that achievement. As my longtime advisor and coauthor Joe Gaylord and I thought through the history of the Republican Revolution, we realized that it is best described as a sustained march. It didn’t happen overnight. It started long before 1994—and it endures today.
In fact, no one expected the massive Republican victory in 1994. Before September 16, 1994, even we didn’t fully expect it. That was the day Gaylord walked me through why we would win the majority in November.
I was flying to a national event in California with Gaylord, my close friend Steve Hanser, and a collection of our top staff members. We were in the back of the plane sitting around a table discussing the ins and outs of my move up from minority whip to minority leader, and Gaylord just cut in. He said we were wasting our time making the wrong plan. He said, “You’d better begin planning for Newt to be Speaker. He will be following the election on November eighth.” As we sat there stunned, Gaylord spent three hours talking through the elections we would win—state by state and district by district. (He was off by one district. No one expected us to win in downtown Chicago, but more on that later.)
That was the day we knew something historic was about to happen. Picking up 54 seats, we became the first Republican House majority in forty years. By itself, that was historic. But then we led the majority in such a way—and got enough positive things done—that in 1996 we kept the majority for the first time since 1928 (even though we lost the presidency). That ended a sixty-eight-year slump for House Republicans.
At first, we thought we could begin the “March to the Majority” when I was elected to Congress in 1978 (and in terms of taking the first full steps, that may be right). As an energized freshman, I boldly recommended to the National Republican Congressional Committee that we create a long-range planning committee. I unabashedly suggested that the committee take the Grand Old Party (which had been the minority party for twenty-four years at that point) and chart a deliberate course to become the majority party. This may seem like an obvious idea now but many of the Republican members had been in the minority for so long, they couldn’t imagine planning anything like this. They had an almost Stockholm syndrome attitude. They were defeatist and used to being subordinate to the so-called Permanent Democrat House majority.
I’m sure some of the party leaders thought I was totally naïve and unrealistic. But Michigan representative Guy Vander Jagt, who was the chairman of the NRCC, bought in. The planning committee concept was accepted, and in December 1978 I began a project that mostly failed for fourteen years. After all, if you keep score by asking “Are we a majority?” we failed in 1980, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’88, ’90, and ’92. After seven failed elections and fourteen years of effort, in 1993 we set off on what finally became the successful effort to become a majority.
But Gaylord and I agree that even this understates the full length of the march, because it took me five years to win a congressional seat in Georgia. That meant we had to think about 1974 and 1976—the two elections I lost. Before that, we had to think about 1972, when, with Bo Callaway’s help, I became the Georgia 6th Congressional District coordinator for the Richard Nixon reelection campaign. That job gave me the resources and legitimacy to go around the congressional district laying the base for my own campaign.
Gaylord had to think all the way back to 1960, when, as a teenager, he watched every minute of the Democrat and Republican national convention coverage. And later, when he first read Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative to make better arguments on his high school debate team.
So, Gaylord and I thought a great deal about the story of our political activity and how we should explain it. Slowly, it occurred to us that all the benchmarks from the 1960s forward were, in some ways, insufficient.
The truth is: My development and growth as an active citizen who cared about politics went back to August 1954, when I was eleven and desperately wanted my hometown to have a zoo. My desire to really work for and serve the American people was later cemented by a trip to the battlefield of Verdun, in France.
So, there are pivotal stories from our early lives that illustrate how this march started for us personally. Many of these stories have never been told publicly before. Many are not explicitly related to the Republican Revolution, but without them we would probably not have gotten there.
Harrisburg Needs a Zoo
According to my mother, June 17, 1943, was the only time an air raid siren ever sounded in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during World War II. I’ve never been able to confirm this claim. After all, she was in labor, and I was being born.
My mother, Kathleen “Kit” Dougherty, had married my biological father, Newton “Newt” McPherson. He then went off to World War II in the U.S. Navy. He got a Purple Heart fighting in the Mediterranean. My mother decided she feared him, so she divorced him while he was overseas. But his family, the McPhersons, felt strongly about sustaining a relationship with me, partly because my name was Newt, too.
My mother later married Robert Gingrich—Robert Bruce Gingrich to be precise. His name would matter later because I learned Robert Bruce was a persistent fighter for Scottish independence. Robert the Bruce spent seventeen years in a war of independence against the English in the early fourteenth century. So, the willingness to endure a long campaign became a hallmark of my life.
Robert Gingrich had entered the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. He got out, worked on the Reading Railroad, and then went back to college on the GI Bill. He attended Gettysburg College, near to the greatest battlefield of the Civil War, and then went back into the army. He was sent to Korea, and later spent twenty-seven years as a career infantryman. Along the way, my mother and I went where he went—Fort Riley, Kansas; France; Germany; and Fort Benning, Georgia. The travel had an enormous impact on me.
Meanwhile, the McPherson family liked me and took care of me—including aunts, uncles, and grandparents. And my mother’s family, the Doughertys, whose background was Irish, were friendly to me and wanted me around. So, my early life involved a highly complex series of relationships, and I’m sure the complexity of relating to all my various relatives was a major part of my development and ability to ultimately operate in an environment as dynamic as the U.S. House of Representatives.
My grandmother, Ethel Dougherty, had been a schoolteacher and had two years of college. When the school system started requiring teachers to get four-year degrees, she quit teaching professionally and decided to have a classroom of one—me. Early on, I was taught how to read. My grandmother always looked over my shoulder and had a stern, almost Victorian belief in duty and citizenship. She was determined that I would learn to be a good, dutiful, and active citizen.
The McPhersons had a similar, deeply patriotic sense. And, of course, I’d been born in the middle of World War II, which was the most extraordinary mobilization of American efforts since the Civil War. Virtually every American was touched by the war, whether they worked in factories or were in the military. In a much smaller country than we are today (the population was just over 136 million people), more than 15 million Americans were under arms in that period. Everyone knew someone who was fighting. So, even beyond my family, I was surrounded by people who believed you had to be a patriot and do your duty. That became one of the formative themes of my life.
Layered into this deeply ingrained sense of citizenship and patriotism, my earliest real memory was of my great-grandfather dying at home. Slowly, he’d gotten old. He was bed-ridden. People had to take care of him. He was helpless. At about four years of age, for some reason, I noticed how dependent he was and how difficult the end was. It occurred to me that this is how life ends. I decided you had better use your time—and your life—as well as you can because it will someday be over. I think that became one of the underlying psychological pressures driving how I operated and what I did.
The result: I was always deeply interested and energetic about whatever I was doing—and I had been taught that being a good, active citizen was one of the most important things to do. All this sort of came together for me in August 1954. My father was finishing service in Korea, where he had been sent during the Korean War after he graduated from Gettysburg College. My mother and I were living in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, a small town eighteen miles from Harrisburg. It was a much more peaceful, safer time than today. So, my mother had cheerfully put me on the bus to go downtown and watch movies. I went to the local theater and saw two movies about Africa that involved African animals.
I got terrifically excited about animals, and I wished Harrisburg had a zoo that I could visit regularly. I loved going to the Philadelphia Zoo with my relatives. But that was a long way away. I was eleven years old, and I couldn’t do it as often as I liked. So, by pure luck, I came out of the theater that afternoon and looked down the street. There was a sign that said City Hall and pointed down a little alleyway. I stood there, and I thought, If I want a zoo, since my grandmother has always told me about duty and citizenship, shouldn’t I see about a zoo? I know it sounds crazy, but it was true. I walked through the alley to City Hall, an old brick building, and walked up the stairs. I told the woman at the reception desk, “I’m here to see about a zoo.” After a moment, she responded, “Well, I guess that must be Parks and Recreation.” She sent me up the stairs to the second floor, where I went to the Parks Department. The director wasn’t there that day, but his deputy was. I walked in and said, “Hi, I’m Newt Gingrich, and I’m here to see about the Parks Department starting a zoo.”
The deputy parks director took me totally seriously. (For some reason, I was often treated as a little adult rather than a child growing up.) Late on a Friday afternoon in August, the deputy parks director could easily have brushed me off and gone home. Instead, he explained that the city used to have a zoo at Wildwood Park, but it closed during World War II. It was too hard to get food for the animals while the country was rationing. Still, he sat and showed me the records. He pulled out the descriptions and invoices for what it cost to feed a lion, a zebra, and other animals. I was entranced.
This became one of those accidents of history that convinced me that you could not do anything big or important without first learning a lot of facts. It had gotten late, so the deputy parks director called my grandmother to tell her he was going to put me in a cab to go home—but that I needed to come back the following Tuesday to speak with the City Council about reopening the zoo.
“That’s what citizens do, and he should do that,” the man told my grandmother, whom it turned out he had dated thirty years earlier. He put me in the cab, and I went home.
As instructed, I came back the following Tuesday and sat at the back of the City Council meeting. I listened to all these people—these adults—who had all these important things to say. I’ve never forgotten this memory. A family came up to the podium to complain about garbage pickup on their street. Another man talked about potholes. Then, it was my turn.
So, on August 24, 1954, I gave my first public speech. I talked about why Harrisburg needed a zoo. As you can imagine, if you were a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, you were sitting there listening to yet another humdrum City Council meeting. Then, suddenly, there was a human interest story. An eleven-year-old kid wants a zoo and decided to come tell the City Council his plan.
The next day, a story about my appeal for a zoo in Harrisburg appeared in the local paper. In fact, probably because it was a dull day in August and the story was sufficiently interesting, it was picked up by the Associated Press. We found out later that it appeared all over the place—the Kennebec Journal in Maine, the Raleigh News & Observer, the Honolulu Advertiser, and so forth. They all published the story about me going and asking for a zoo.
The Associated Press titled the piece “A Young Zookeeper” and reported that “an 11-year-old is fighting city hall here to establish a zoo in the city’s Wildwood Park. Young Newton Gingrich told Mayor Claude Robbins and four City Council members that he and several youthful buddies could round up enough animals to get the project started if granted use of the park.”
So, that was my entry point. I then was sent by the deputy parks director to see a good friend of his, Nolan Ziegler, a state representative who was going to run for mayor. Representative Ziegler had been to the great Tierpark Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany. Before World War II, it was one of the greatest zoos in the world. He showed me the guidebook he’d saved, and we talked about it. Having figured two meetings were the most he owed the McPhersons of Harrisburg (who were now more likely to vote for him for mayor), he then sent me off on a path that changed my life.
Representative Ziegler sent me to Paul Walker, who created the Harrisburg Home Star, a weekly newspaper. The Home Star was always looking for material. So, he told me that if I wrote an article explaining why we needed a zoo, he would print it. When I told him I couldn’t type, he simply said, “Well, you’re not going to get printed, are you?” So, I sat down at a manual typewriter and banged out my column, “To the People of Harrisburg,” with three fingers (which is how I still type today).
I made a fair appeal for an eleven-year-old:
For a long time I have had the idea Harrisburg should have a zoo. You’ll say that Harrisburg doesn’t want a zoo; it costs too much money. But suppose some one said he would build you a zoo for nothing unless you wanted to give donations to help keep it going.
You might think some one was trying to “gyp” you, but that would not be true.
I think I could raise the money through donations from interested people.
I have read and studied many books about animals, zoos, etc. Whenever possible I have visited zoos to make a first hand inspection of them.
Wildwood Park offers a natural location for this zoo. Of course you will say there was a zoo there before, but from what I hear it wasn’t the kind of a zoo to attract great crowds and hold the public interest. If the people don’t go to the zoo, there’s no zoo, that’s all. It must be one of the best zoos in the world.
The State of Pennsylvania could build the zoo in Wildwood Park, the city donating the land. Right away we save money; no land to buy. Then the State Game Commission could stock it with Pennsylvania animals and birds at practically no cost. We would, of course, have other animals too.
Suppose it did cost $120,000. There are 12,000,000 people in Pennsylvania. That would only cost each person one penny—and every body has a penny.
Let us know what you think about a zoo for Harrisburg, build [sic] and operated by the State of Pennsylvania. All one of our Legislators has to do is to put in a bill for the zoo, get it out of committee, get it passed, get the money and, of course, the Governor’s signature. Why not have the two candidates for Governor, Mr. Wood and Mr. Leader, go on record on what they think about a zoo for Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.
When my wife Callista read this while we were researching this book, she was taken with “every body has a penny” and spent weeks repeating it.
In hindsight, this episode of civic action was a clear indication that I might go into politics. I suggested that people talk to the two candidates for governor, Republican Lloyd Wood and Democrat George Leader, and make them go on record about a zoo in Harrisburg. I also already had a notion of how laws are made. Little did I know that I would eventually spend the rest of my life on this process.
But it’s really no surprise. I was surrounded by people who served the community. My uncle Cal Troutman had been a precinct worker for many years. My uncle Bruce Kepner worked for the state government. He would later play a significant role because Uncle Bruce gave me access to the Pennsylvania State Library, which was by far the most extensive library in Central Pennsylvania. I could go and wander around the shelves because I could get his pass as a state employee. Of course, my father was fighting in Korea, an act of government. He had gone to college on the GI Bill, which was part of the government. So, there were a lot of different ways in which government and politics were around me, and I was picking up the concepts.
And, of course, Central Pennsylvania was a Republican stronghold back then. It even voted for Alf Landon over Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936. So, I was growing up in an area that was hard-core Republican. Looking back on that period, Walker sort of adopted me as his political friend and protégé. So, I was allowed all through my teenage years to sit down and have coffee with him and his friends. This was in Harrisburg, the state capital. They all talked politics, and I listened. It was just part of my general education. In the process Walker taught me a lot about the media and its key role in a healthy free society.
Nations Can Die
I learned citizenship in Harrisburg, but I realized how vital it was years later in the spring of 1958. My father had been stationed in France, and we went with him. He took us to the battlefield of Verdun, which is the site of the largest battle on the Western Front in World War I. It was where 600,000 German and French soldiers were killed in a nine-month period. The battlefield itself is enormous. They had built huge concrete embankments. They had built entire railroads to bring up ammunition and large artillery pieces. There is a building called the Douaumont Ossuary. It contains the bones of the more than 130,000 French and German soldiers who were blown apart in the field and couldn’t be identified. They were all simply buried together.
I remember looking at this great battlefield of World War I—and seeing the price of war. In the evening, we were staying with a friend of my father who had been drafted in 1941. He was sent to the Philippines and lived through the Bataan Death March. He spent three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp. His health had been broken, and the army kept him on in a sinecure as a captain, so he could earn a living and eventually retire with dignity and a pension. We talked about the cost of losing (because he had been part of a fighting force that had been defeated).
The trip to Verdun and the conversations with my dad’s friend weighed on me. A few weeks later, French paratroopers came back from Algeria and killed the French Fourth Republic. General Charles de Gaulle came out of retirement at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises to create the French Fifth Republic, which is today the longest surviving nonmonarchical government in French history. This happened while we were living in France. Prior to this, I had thought deeply about becoming either a paleontologist or a zoo director. (My childhood passion for the natural world had persisted—and still does.) But I spent all that summer in 1958 thinking and praying about what I had experienced and seen.
I concluded that countries could die, and that you needed leadership for governments to help them survive. That’s when I realized I had to try to answer three core questions: What does America need to do to remain safe and free? How do you convince the American people it’s what we need to do? And how would you implement it if they permitted you?
These questions formed the framework that shaped the rest of my life. As an early teenager, I started studying and writing papers on the balance of world power, national security, history, and war. I used this model when I got involved in the Richard Nixon–Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. campaign in 1960. (At that time, I was a high school junior in Georgia, where there was virtually no Republican Party.) I carried the three-questions model with me into 1962, when I became an active worker for the almost nonexistent Georgia GOP—and in 1964, when I took a year off from college to work on Republican Jack Prince’s congressional campaign. By 1972, I was teaching at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia) in Carrollton and was the Nixon campaign’s coordinator for the 6th Congressional District.
Through all this work, we had built up the Republican support in the state, and I had been using the model that came out of my visit to Verdun the entire time. All the work also prepared me—both mentally and socially—to run for Congress in 1974 and take my first full steps on the March to the Majority.
LEARNING TO FALL
In 1973, I was teaching at West Georgia College and keeping up with all the various groups I had contacted while traveling around Georgia’s 6th Congressional District on behalf of the Richard Nixon campaign the year before. Thanks to that work, I was familiar with small towns all over the district. I was well-known in all the Kiwanis Clubs and Moose Lodges and was always invited to their cookouts. I would go to high school football games on Friday nights and get to know people.
So, I was making the rounds, but Republican politics—in Georgia specifically—were not easy at this point. To understand the story we are telling, it’s necessary to review a bit of history.
American politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s in no way resembled what we are used to today. The Democrats had what was widely regarded as a “permanent House majority.” There were zero national conservative media outlets. The news was only reported in the mornings and the evenings—and national politics were not top of mind outside Washington, D.C.
Republican efforts led by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee to elect Republican majorities to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate were continually unsuccessful. But there were pieces of a foundation of campaign strategy and tactics that would ultimately be useful in our successful effort in 1994 to win control of the U.S. House for the first time in forty years.
Nineteen sixty-four was the year of the ascension of the conservative movement led by Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The fight to wrest control of the party from northeastern and midwestern moderates to western and southern conservatives turned into a bloodbath. At the 1964 Republican National Convention, held at the Cow Palace near San Francisco, a stampede of conservatives took control of the Republican Party. The split was most evident when Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York took to the podium and was resoundingly booed by the delegates and alternates. One of the lasting impressions of the convention was of Rockefeller essentially showing his middle finger to the crowd.
Democrat president Lyndon Johnson was overwhelmingly elected in November 1964, and the ranks of Republicans in the Congress, governorships, and state legislatures nationwide suffered huge defeats. However, there was a bright spot. California’s Ronald Reagan, who had served as host for the television programs General Electric Theater and Death Valley Days, gave a speech titled “A Time for Choosing.” It was the best thing to come out of the 1964 campaign and was profoundly impactful on the Republican movement going forward. Gaylord and I have talked to innumerable people over the years who said Reagan’s ’64 convention speech moved them to conservatism.
Upon the wreckage to the party from the 1964 campaign, the RNC elected Ray Bliss of Ohio as its chairman. Bliss was a nuts-and-bolts party leader who began the process of building party operations from the ground up. For the 1966 midterm elections, former vice president Nixon was put to work. Nixon campaigned in seventy-six congressional districts for Republican candidates and earned the loyalty of Republicans across the country.
The 1966 elections revitalized the Republican Party. We didn’t gain control of Congress, but we picked up seats in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, governorships, and state legislative seats nationwide. In Miami Beach at the Republican National Convention, Nixon was nominated on the first ballot over Governor Rockefeller of New York and Governor Reagan of California. Nixon led a united Republican Party into the 1968 campaign with a big head of steam.
Meanwhile, the Democrats were in severe disarray. Their convention in Chicago was a disaster. There were riots in the street and literal fistfights on the convention floor led by the anti–Vietnam War faction of the party. This created a split that did not heal for years to come. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic presidential nomination in a three-way race against ultraliberal senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and segregationist governor George Wallace of Alabama.
So, the 1960s were a deeply contentious time in America. There were five revolutions or movements going on simultaneously: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the youth movement, the sexual revolution, and the anti–Vietnam War movement. Many people forget, but it was far more fractious and chaotic than politics are today. We currently have two main factions—we had a half dozen then.
- "Anyone who wants to understand how and why American politics are the way they are should read March to the Majority. This is the essential story of how a stale, seemingly permanent Democrat majority in Congress was defeated by a passionate group of men and women led by Newt Gingrich who wanted to change Washington and help Americans prosper.”—Larry Kudlow, Host of Fox Business Network “Kudlow”
- "Our nation is at a tipping point with a media bias and agency politicization unlike we have ever seen before, and we need to know where we've been to know where we're going and how best to get there; March to the Majority is the guide to get us back on track."—Sean Hannity, host of The Sean Hannity Show and Fox News’ Hannity
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2023
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Center Street