How Newt aped his way to the top

Newt Gingrich's meteoric rise to power owes much to his study of the behaviour of chimpanzees. The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, spoken of by his fans as America's "alternative president", is an avid reader of Frans de Waal, a Dutch ethologist who has written numerous works on the human's closest relative in the animal kingdom.

De Waal's Chimpanzee Politics was one of 25 books on a recommended reading list Mr Gingrich put out earlier this year for the benefit of young congressional Republicans newly arrived in Washington.

Chimpanzee Politics is a study of the struggle for power between apes striving to acquire the coveted status of "alpha male". De Waal's conclusion is that "the roots of politics are older than humanity", that when it comes to the tactics employed for the pursuit of power the main difference between humans and chimpanzees is that one species talks and the other doesn't.

De Waal's book centres on a protracted leadership battle between Yeroen, the incumbent alpha male of a chimpanzee colony in Arnhem, and Luit, his ambitious challenger. Luit wages a campaign to dethrone the autocratic Yeroen. His eventual success rests on a strategy that combines populism, coalition-building and naked aggression.

For a simple understanding of the secrets of power Mr Gingrich found in the book, all one need do is substitute Newt for Luit and Bill Clinton for Yeroen.

Luit, like Newt, "has a playful, almost mischievous character", De Waal writes. He engages in "bluff displays": screaming, jumping-up-and-down performances designed simultaneously to intimidate Yeroen and trumpet the impending challenge to his leadership. Yeroen responds in kind but tires more easily.

Luit "mocks Yeroen by openly usurping his position in the early stages of the struggle". Not 10 metres from Yeroen he proceeds to mate with Spin, the most attractive female in the colony. Yeroen pretends not to notice but "unobtrusively watches Luit through the hair on his shoulders".

An analogy might be found with Mr Clinton's response - peeping, as it were, from behind the White House curtains - to Mr Gingrich's flauntingly presidential demeanour following the Republicans' electoral seizure of Congress.

Mr Clinton's first counter-tactic uncannily aped Yeroen's. Mr Clinton went into a huddle with his most loyal White House supporters. Yeroen, "calculating by nature", lobbies among his trusted allies, most of whom happen to be female. (Mr Clinton's support base is much more solid, according to the statistics, among women than men.)

Yeroen, his self-esteem beginning to grow again, regroups and charges at Luit (Mr Clinton's successful State of the Union address in January?) with his female supporters in tow.

But Luit learns from Yeroen's example. He goes to the females, plays with their children. (Mr Gingrich's response to Mr Clinton's charge that the Republicans were not sensitive to children's needs was to hand out free books at a Washington school.) Luit builds up his alliances, grows stronger.

"Luit displays forcefully at Yeroen and never bares his teeth. Yeroen, on the other hand, does bare his teeth, a sign of uncertainty. Yeroen was, as it were, being weaned from power ... He looked a pitiful sight. He had lost all his former self confidence and the look in his eyes reflected the psychological beating he had taken."

Sensing victory, Luit changes tack. He offers a truce. (Mr Gingrich has made a point recently of praising Mr Clinton, pledging to work with him for the common good.)

But Luit feels he has won, as Mr Gingrich feels he has, having successfully cajoled the House of Representatives into voting on all the items on his Contract with America during the first 100 days of Congress.

In the last phase of the struggle Yeroen greets Luit with a grunt: the chimpanzee equivalent of the white flag of surrender.

But, there is a tragic postscript. After Chimpanzee Politics was published, the deposed Yeroen hatched a cruel plot with a new young ally. One night they caught Luit unawares and brutally murdered him, tearing off his toes and yanking out his testicles.

The lesson for Mr Gingrich? That he might usefully consider paying more attention to peace-making, less to brash acts of bluff self-display. If he doesn't know, he should be told.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral