US Republicans try to recapture the past

Right wing takes stock: 'Dark Ages Weekend' chews over the problems of turning Newt Gingrich's revolution into reality

JOHN CARLIN

Washington

Sobered in 1995 by the discovery that democracy is not conducive to revolution, a group of leading Republicans spent the New Year festivities in nostalgic recollection of an era when the business of government was accomplished by royal fiat.

More than 300 conservative congressmen, businessmen and thinkers gathered at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami for an event called the Dark Ages Weekend. The name was chosen as a spoof - "to show we Republicans have a sense of humour", as one Congressman explained it - on a New Year's bash attended by President Bill Clinton called the Renaissance Weekend.

The organisers of the Dark Ages event, a couple of young Washington lawyers, provided guests with plenty of jolly, Olde Worlde amusement: a Charlemagne tennis tournament, a William the Conqueror golf competition, a masked ball and a Canterbury Tales banquet.

But the mood was rueful: December had been a cruel month. For the truth had dawned that Newt Gingrich's plans "to change the world" and "shift the entire planet" had been thwarted by checks and balances in the constitution and the democratic imperative to pander to the vagaries of public opinion.

The revellers used the Dark Ages Weekend as an opportunity to regroup, take stock, evaluate. But the last thought on anybody's mind was that the time might have come to redefine Republican goals. The sacred task remained the same: to destroy "the Liberal Welfare State" and return to the individual the right to shape his own destiny alone. The problem, they concluded, lay in the way the Second American Revolution had been packaged.

The debate turned less on the substance of Republican ideas than on how to sell them better. Thus Ralph Reed, the secularly ambitious head of the Christian Coalition, said the Republicans should shift the rhetorical emphasis away from dismantling central government to restoring power to the states and to the people.

Michael Huffington, who vainly spent $25m in 1994 trying to win election to the Senate, elaborated in a speech on Mr Reed's idea. "If you don't use the right words you can't get the message across. Clinton is using more effective words than the Republicans. Clinton is a better communicator. Now, if Ronald Reagan were our leader, we'd win the battle."

Laura Ingraham, one of the organisers of the powwow, noted that while conservatives were driving the nation's political discourse, they had lost their edge in the debate. "President Clinton," she noted, "has captured words like compassion."

Lurking, unspoken, over the proceedings was the shadow of Mr Gingrich. It was he who had masterminded the Republicans' victory in November 1994 by tutoring party candidates in the semantics of power. Thus he taught them to attribute to their cause words like "courage", "family" and "peace" and to their Democratic rivals words like "sick", "corrupt" and "stagnation".

Yet today, with Mr Gingrich's negative poll ratings exceeding 60 per cent, a growing number of Republicans are beginning to wonder whether he might be a better professor than a leader, whether perhaps he might turn out to be his revolution's greatest liability. Which is why he too has been engaging in a little end-of-year self-flagellation. In a weekend interview with CNN he acknowledged he had not projected himself as well as he might have and said his New Year's resolution would be to adopt a more thoughtful and contemplative approach to life.

He had erred, for example, in complaining publicly about seating arrangements on the presidential plane on the flight to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. "There's no question that there are times, as I've described it, where it's like throwing an interception straight into the other team's defence. And on several occasions, and that's one, I did things that weren't right."

He meant henceforth, he said, to listen more carefully, to be more precise and more thoughtful in what he said.

"You know, I'm the Speaker of the House. I'm not an assistant professor of history. I'm not an analyst. I'm not a commentator. And I think at times I've tried to play other roles, and it's almost always been wrong."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss