The deterioration of the Republican Party and the coarsening of national politics began with Newt Gingrich. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, Gingrich arrived in Washington from Georgia with the goal of destroying politics as usual, which relied on Republicans and Democrats working together, compromising, and being civil toward each other. He argued that if the GOP ever wanted to defeat Democrats – who had controlled both the House and the Senate since the elections of 1954 – they needed to adopt an unforgiving style of partisanship employing character assassination and tearing down of governing institutions.

“If you teach them (Republicans) how to be aggressive and confrontational,” Gingrich wrote to House Minority Leader Robert Michel, “you will increase their abilities to fight Democrats on the floor.” If the GOP did become more aggressive, Gingrich believed, it would always remain the minority party.

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