Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Gingrich Legions: It's a Big 'Newt World'

WASHINGTON -- They said it couldn't be done anymore: In the era of video politics and the decline of political parties, no one would ever again be able to rule Congress with the efficiency and iron control of the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson and Sam Rayburn.

But Newt Gingrich, the incoming speaker of the House, may be rewriting the rules of modern politicking. He has followed an extraordinary 10-year plan to personally recruit, train and help finance the election of an army of new Republicans remarkably loyal to him and his agenda.

In the last four years, about half of the Republicans newly elected to the House were recruits of Gingrich's so-called "farm team." And nationwide, this network of Republican candidates running for all sorts of political offices totals 18,200. Some in Washington now consider his main recruiting arm, a political action committee called GOPAC, to be more important than the Republican National Committee.

The "Newtonians," as they call themselves -- more suspicious Republicans call them "Newtoids" -- are the product of a network of groups and ideas dubbed "Newt World" by its initiates, tirelessly tended by Gingrich and a cadre of Republican strategists who see themselves at the vanguard of a revolution of cultural conservatism and economic change.

Among other strategies, they have used political action committees in a unique way: to recruit and train candidates who are enthusiastic about Gingrich's populist Republican vision.

Headquarters delivered detailed manuals on campaigning to each of them. Special conferences on campaign tactics were conducted around the country. Each month, a package of audiotapes arrived with campaign "do's" and "don'ts" or messages to refine the vision. Word lists coached them on how to "talk like Newt," according to one document.

And every Thursday, Gingrich himself was available for a personal briefing on a prearranged call-in basis.

Today, many of these Republicans are not at all bashful about their bond to Gingrich, or their plans to follow him.

The Gingrich-led Republican team has already demonstrated that it is much more than a traditional political bloc, leaving veteran politicians to wonder what to expect now from the remarkable chemistry, cohesion and group agenda the team has produced.

Much of this began in the early 1980s, when Gingrich, then a young backbencher in the House, began to seek out other conservatives who wanted to remake the Republican Party. Even then, Gingrich had a long-term strategy.

Vin Weber, a now-retired Minnesota congressman, still recalls the day that Gingrich, whom he knew only casually, approached him on the House floor: "Have you thought about what you're doing for the next 10 years?" Gingrich asked him.

They formed a cadre, Gingrich, Weber and Pennsylvania Representative Robert Walker, bound by a vision that took Ronald Reagan's philosophy of lower taxes and regulation and blended it with a notion of the 21st century.

"It involved the whole idea that there is a macro political and macro economic revolution taking place, with the ebbing of the industrial economy in favor of some new-wave economy," Walker said.

According to the concept, this technological and economic revolution would weaken elite structures, make the economy more international and make politics more grass roots. But the people's chances of capitalizing on the revolution were being undercut by Democratic social programs that made people dependent and eroded their moral values and responsibility. To be the party of the future, Republicans needed to bind themselves to the idea of sweeping change. They quickly focused on the power of C-SPAN, the cable television channel that televises the actions of Congress.

It didn't matter that they were speaking to an absolutely empty chamber of Congress. With cable television systems proliferating, they could potentially reach millions of voters.

Over the last two congressional elections, 80 new pro-Gingrich members have been elected to the House and 9,600 ran. The Newt package is now spreading beyond candidates directly to the public.

"The goal of this project," Jeffrey Eisenach, director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, said is "to train, by April 1996, 200,000-plus citizens into a model for replacing the welfare state and reforming our government."