Newt Gingrich To GOP: Shut The Government Down If You Have To, 1995 Wasn’t So Bad

Feb 25, 2011 12:35pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the government shutdown of 1995 helped pave the way for President Bill Clinton’s re-election victory the next year with the passage of a balanced budget agreement, Newt Gingrich is arguing more than a decade-and-a-half later that the “facts are exactly the opposite.”

With just days to go before lawmakers return to Washington to try to hash out an agreement to avert a federal government shutdown this year, Gingrich offered a message for Republican leaders in an Op-Ed to be published in this Sunday’s Washington Post: “Work to keep the government open,” but if you have to, don’t hesitate to shut it down.

In the piece, Gingrich also argues that it was Republicans not Democrats who actually fared better politically in the aftermath of the 1995 shutdown led by the former GOP House Speaker.

“This historic success was not an achievement of the Clinton administration,” Gingrich writes, referring to the budget deal. “In the summer of 1995, administration officials publicly expressed doubt that our aggressive timeline for a balanced budget was even possible. Instead, the balanced budget was an outcome driven by House Republicans with limited support from skeptical Senate Republicans.”

None of it would have been possible, the potential 2012 presidential candidates argues, “had Republicans not stood firm in 1995.”

Regardless of whether Republicans forced Clinton’s hand that year, the political fallout seems clear. Clinton emerged from the crisis looking like a leader on budget issues, his approval rating inched up and after the bruising Republican Revolution of 1994 and he went on to score a decisive victory over GOP nominee Bob Dole and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot in the 1996 presidential election.

The current Republican leadership on Capitol Hill has publicly said it wants no part of a government shutdown this year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia told reporters Friday that a shutdown would be “not acceptable or responsible.”

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, DC think tank, said that shutdown of the 1995 was “almost universally viewed as a setback for” Republicans, and for Gingrich, in particular. Ornstein acknowledged that while there are some kernels of truth in the former House Speaker's Op-Ed, he said it amounted to “a re-write of history.”

“Newt set himself up as an alternative president and Congressional Republicans really believed that Bill Clinton was weak and he if they reached a confrontation he would cave,” Ornstein told ABC News. “When he didn’t cave, they were forced to back down.”

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken shortly after the nearly three-week partial government shutdown ended that year, 75 percent of Americans said it had been a “bad thing” and about twice as many blamed Republicans in Congress (50 percent) as the Clinton administration (27 percent) for it.

Half of Americans — 50 percent — approved of how President Clinton handled the situation compared to 22 percent approval for Republicans. 

But in hindsight, Gingrich writes in the Post that there was actually an electoral silver lining for Republicans in 1996.

“Those who claim that the shutdown was politically disastrous for Republicans ignore the fact that our House seat losses in 1996 were in the single digits. Moreover, it was the first time in 68 years that Republicans were reelected to a House majority — and the first time that had ever happened with a Democrat winning the presidency."

For a look back at the 1995 shutdown, watch Friday's episode of ABC's Top Line:

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