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How Newt Gingrich remade the Senate

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This paper (pdf) by Sean Theriault and David Rohde proposes a new and intuitively convincing explanation for rising polarization in the U.S. Senate: Blame the House. And in particular, blame Newt Gingrich.

The House, as we know, is a more polarized place. That's been especially true since 1978, when Newt Gingrich was elected and began ratcheting up the GOP's partisanship in order to create a clearer contrast with the majority Democrats. Gingrich's strategy worked -- and not just in the House. Some congressmen, after all, go on to become senators. And it turns out that the behavior of those congressmen-cum-senators can single-handedly account for the rise of polarization in the Senate:

The growing divide between the voting scores of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate can be accounted for almost entirely by the election of a particular breed of senator: Republicans who were previously elected to the House after 1978. It is the replacement of retiring or defeated senators (both Democrat and Republican) by these newly elected former House Republicans that single-handedly can account for almost the entire growth in the divide between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate since the early 1980s.

For another account of how Gingrich broke Congress, see my interview with Steny Hoyer.

By Ezra Klein  | September 20, 2010; 1:18 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

It's not Gingrich who broke Congress. It's the idiots who vote for demagogues like him who break it. No one has been more factually wrong or hypocritical on the issues than that man, yet he he has one of the loudest voices in the media. I am no longer a Republican in large measure to people like Gingrich.

Posted by: lauren2010 | September 20, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I've been saying this since Gingrich took his position of power and crafted his Contract (on) America. It doesn't take much analysis to figure out that that is when the modern war on reasonable government kicked into high gear. It started, of course, with the election of Ronald Reagan but elevated to evil with Newt and his rejection of Clinton's presidency as legitimate.

Posted by: seriousfun | September 20, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

The word "Dole" doesn't appear in that paper, which is a pity. Bob Dole shouldn't be let off the hook for his role in creating an environment in the Senate where Gingrich proteges would feel more than welcome.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 20, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

There's actually more to it than this because the House is set up to encourage partisanship to the detriment of the majority of the electorate, not to mention the country. That said, I don't disagree that Gingrich made matters worse. But I don't think that gives Pelosi an excuse for perpetuating, if not accentuating the decline.

Posted by: Steve851 | September 20, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

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