“Part of what Gingrich was doing was simply destroying the trust of the American people in Congress and really the government, believing that government would do the right thing. You can look at all the polls dating the decline in trust in Congress and government and really all institutions of American life and there’s a noticeable dip in the Gingrich era. So Gingrich brings these nihilistic energies to bear on Congress, and people never look at it the same way again.
You could say Gingrich is the guy who put in place this image of Congress as a “swamp,” something Trump would later play upon. And he brought a kind of partisan polarization to the institution that didn’t really exist before, or at least wasn’t a dominant strain. This is the era where Gingrich really teaches the Republicans to talk about Democrats as the enemy, as corrupt people who don’t have the interests of the American people in mind.
Ultimately, he changes the institution in ways that destroyed the possibility for comity and practical wisdom, and you can see that legacy in Congress today.”
“Maybe because I am on the right myself, I don’t see these conservative movements as having risen from nothing, or from mere racism or other kinds of unsatisfiable grievances. I tend to see them as inflammations or infections within the body politic that need to be treated. And historically, these movements did succeed in bringing people to power who did then try to use the power of government to address some of the problems that had motivated those movements.
The Tea Party was indicative, in ways I’m not sure we understood at the time, of the growing inequality in American life and the extent to which large parts of the country felt abandoned by the centers of power, the extent to which many Americans had become alienated from their fellow countrymen and their culture. And more should have been done in the Obama years, in hindsight, to address this. And this is not an original thought to me. I think Obama would say the same.
But what the Tea Party movement tended to produce was people who were against government in toto. So when they came to Congress, they weren’t willing to learn the system and accept their roles as junior people on the totem pole and follow the advice of their more pragmatic elders and learn wisdom. They were out to blow the place up. And when they discovered they couldn’t blow the place up, they left. And the ones who stayed on really stayed on with an eye toward doing as much damage to the system as they could.
So the direct line from the Tea Party is to the House Freedom Caucus, which is the most malign element in government, I think, that we’ve seen since the period before the Civil War. And the stated enemy of the Freedom Caucus is not even the Democrats, not even the people they call RINOs. The enemy is bipartisanship and compromise itself. And when you have a significant faction that doesn’t get expelled from a party and is allowed to keep putting this view forward, it completely undermines democracy itself.”