BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dan Balz, co-author of "Storming The Gates: Protest Politics and the
Republican Revival," if you had to remember a moment in all of your research
behind the scenes for this book that made the biggest impression, what would
Mr. DAN BALZ, AUTHOR, "STORMING THE GATES I guess it would be that the
point that we began to understand how long-term forces that had been
moving the country, I think, somewhat in a more conservative direction
coincided with the anger that was beginning to erupt in 1994 and how 1994 was
coming together for the Republicans in that significant way.
LAMB: Where did you see it, though?
Mr. BALZ: Well, we saw it in a variety of places. My co-author, Ron Brownstein,
and I had both been out covering the 1994 campaign;
we'd been out in the 1992 campaign. Like every political reporter who was
out, we were seeing anger in the country about politics, about politicians and
about Washington. We realized that something was out there that we
wanted to explore in more detail.
What we found was the degree to which the Republicans, in 1994, understood
this probably better than the Democrats did and figured out ways to manipulate
it, to take advantage of it, to drive it in a way that created their
electoral success in 1994.
LAMB: How did they manipulate it?
Mr. BALZ: Well, manipulation may be an overstatement, but what the
Republicans understood was that if they could generate power at the grass
roots to swell the anger at Washington that they had a much better chance of
winning a big election in 1994. I think people like Newt Gingrich and some of
his allies understood that earlier than a lot of other people and
probably--and certainly understood it much better than the Democrats. And so
what we wanted to do was try to explain how this came about and where it might
LAMB: What came first, Newt Gingrich or the anger?
Mr. BALZ: In many ways, Newt Gingrich came first. Newt Gingrich was out
there a long time talking about the kind of thing that happened in 1994. If
you go back and look at the history of how Newt Gingrich came to power--and
one of the points we make in the book is, to some extent, he changed the party
and took it over and helped move the party toward the kind of electoral
victory they got in 1994. He was talking about many of the same kinds of
issues and political strategies back in the mid- and late 1980s and
particularly the early '90s as they were able to put into place in 1994. But
other ingredients, obviously, played into that strategy, particularly
the breakdown of the Clinton administration during Clinton's first two
years in office so that it fit in 1994 in a way that it had not fit
LAMB: If we followed you around day to day, what would we see you doing?
Mr. BALZ: In terms of doing this book?
LAMB: This book and just being a political reporter.
Mr. BALZ: Well, to follow around a political reporter day by day might
actually be fairly boring. I mean, a lot of what we do is we spend either
time on the telephone talking to people both here in Washington who are doing
campaigns or out around in the country who are doing campaigns or we go out on
the campaign trail. And a lot of what you see on the campaign trail, in some
ways, looks pretty ordinary. A politician comes into town; he goes to an
event; he speaks before a crowd--she speaks before a crowd; there's some kind
of a response; they go on to another place. They do that same kind of thing.
What we try to do as we are out is we try to measure how the message
that a particular politician or a particular party is putting out, is
resonating with people. And then, while we're out, we're talking to
people on the street, people at events, people in coffee shops to try
to get a sense from them of: What are the things that register with them?
What are the issues that they care about? What are the ideas that motivate
them? What are their own frustrations; how their own lives are going? And
out of that, you kind of create this quilt of what's going on in the country.
I mean, one of the great things about covering politics is that it's an
opportunity every two years to kind of take a measure of where the country is:
how it's changed from the last election, what issues are different, what
politicians are more interesting to people and how the country's going.
LAMB: Something that got my attention: page 194, `Shirley Blast faxed
talking points against the bill to 735 right-of-center talk radio stations.'
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: How do you know there are 735 right-of-center talk radio stations?
Mr. BALZ: The research has been done by the people who use talk radio as
an instrument in what has been an ideological and political war the last four
or five years, particularly on the Republican side. Republican press
secretaries and Republican operatives and people who work on the conservative
side figured out that there was a growing market of talk radio hosts and talk
radio shows all over the country that they could use to get a message across
that would circumvent what major news organizations do, what the major
networks do, what the major newspapers do.
And they began, in part, by using press secretaries all over the Hill to kind
of begin to catalog who was out there, what they were saying and who was,
perhaps, friendly or not friendly. And out of that, they developed this huge
body of talk radio hosts who, if they provided them with the information,
might be helpful in spreading the message. And, in fact, they were. And on
the--this has to do with the defeat--the initial defeat of the
crime bill in 1994. It was an effort to try to drum up opposition to a bill
that looked like it was going to sail through Congress.
LAMB: You talk about an `invisible campaign' here that—to the people
that live in DC. `The bill was top presidential priority that had drawn
praise from most newspapers in the mainstream media. Until the very last
days before the vote, the conservative facts and talk radio campaign against
it had been almost invisible in Washington.'
Mr. BALZ: Well, this is another great example of how we in the press and the
political establishment often miss things that are happening at the grass
roots. The crime bill in an election year looks like a gimme for the
president. I mean, the president has proposed a crime bill; he's
beginning to take the issue away from Republicans. And most Republicans on
the Hill, I think, did not believe that they could defeat that bill. But
through a coalition of grass-roots organizations, the NRA being a particularly
important one, revved up people who were suspicious of government, who were
angry at the notion that they were going to put gun controls in and created an
anti-crime bill coalition that ultimately blocked the bill in the House,
forced the president to scramble and, in some ways, helped to change the
whole character of the 1994 elections.
I mean, in talking to people who were doing campaigns, that moment in August
when that crime bill was defeated on the House floor on a procedural
motion-- it didn't ultimately defeat the bill, but it stopped the
bill--the world changed for a lot of people. And I know one consultant said
to me one of his candidates, a Democratic candidate, just went right down
beginning that weekend.
The RNC --we discovered a very interesting thing. The Republican
National Committee has a quite elaborate telemarketing operation to raise
money. They run it every day of the week and on weekends. Just before
that crime bill, they were raising a lot of money because of the opposition to
the crime bill. When some Republicans, after the crime bill was stopped,
started to make a deal with the Democrats, the contributions dried up. The
grass-roots anger over an effort to make a deal on the crime bill told the
Republicans that it was better to fight and lose that bill, ultimately,
than to win it. It was a crystalizing moment in 1994. And it was,
in many ways, one of the best examples of the thing that struck us as we
were beginning to work on this book.
I mean, Ron was the one who said it first as we were thinking about what
was important about 1994. He said, `You know, underlying all of what's going
on out here in the country is this kind of incredible grass-roots anger at
Washington on the conservative side.' And part of what we wanted to do was to
try to describe that. But in many ways, it was invisible. It was
happening at the grass roots; it was not as visible in Washington.
LAMB: How did you and Ron Brownstein divide up the chores?
Mr. BALZ: Almost literally chapter by chapter. We spent a lot of time
working on the proposal of this book. We had the idea to do the book
before the 1994 election. Our sense was that this was going to be a big
Republican year. I don't think either one of us had the sense that it was
going to be as big as it turned out to be. But we started to talk about the
shape of the book and spent several--really, several months putting the
proposal together. And in working that out, we divvied it up by chapter so
that each of us--there are eight chapters; we each, basically, wrote four
chapters and then traded the work after we had done it to make sure it was
LAMB: Which four did you write?
Mr. BALZ: I wrote the odd-numbered chapters and Ron wrote the
LAMB: So if we look at the...
Mr. BALZ: ...and then we shared the introduction.
LAMB: If we look at the inner--at the--just a second here. We'll get a
closer shot of it. Maybe we can't. You wrote, like, one, three and--have to
change the page and go to the next one. The first one: Rise and Fall. You
Mr. BALZ: Well...
LAMB: Holding it to--oh, I see what you're saying. No. I'm--OK.
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: So you wrote The Whirlwind.
Mr. BALZ: I wrote The Whirlwind, which has to do with how the '94 election
happened from a Republican perspective. Ron then wrote the chapter about the
Clinton administration and the long fight within the Democratic Party,
which turned out, in 1994, to be quite unsuccessful. I then did the chapter
on the rise of the Gingrich generation within the party and so on and so
LAMB: So when we read that there are a number of interviews with Newt
Gingrich, that was you?
Mr. BALZ: Well, most--many of them were with me, dating back a number of
years. The Washington Post did a very big series on Gingrich right after he
was elected speaker, and I was one of the participants in that. Some of the
interviewing took place during that series. I had done some interviewing of
Gingrich before the election--the year before and in past times. We really
only had one interview--one joint interview with the speaker for this
LAMB: I counted in the back that 29 of your books in the bibliography are
authors who have sat in that chair right there...
Mr. BALZ: Is that right?
LAMB: ...over the last almost seven years. And then there's a bunch that
have been on this network that just haven't been here for a book.
Mr. BALZ: Yeah.
LAMB: How much of what you've got in here is new?
Mr. BALZ: Well, that's a good question. We did a lot of original research.
I think most of what's in the bibliography would be what you would call the
kind of thing that kind of informs your head as you begin the project. But
much of what we have, I think, is from original reporting or the work
that we were doing in 1994 and beyond. Some of it--I mean, some of
the talk radio background came from some of the books. Some of the
descriptions of the historical parallels, obviously, come out of
the books we read. But a lot of it is original reporting that we tried to
LAMB: You have a note in the back here to someone that I've met in
Freeport, Illinois, when we did the re-enactment of the Lincoln-Douglas
debates. And it reads, `Dan Balz thanks his mother for her enthusiastic
support throughout the project as well as the encouragement of his brother and
regrets that his father did not live to see this book produced.'
Mr. BALZ: Yeah.
LAMB: Who's your mother? I mean, what's...
Mr. BALZ: My mother is Phylis Balz, and I think she's had as much fun with
this book as Ron and I have had.
Mr. BALZ: Well, she--I think the idea that one of her children grew up and
wrote a book is very exciting to her. I mean, it's exciting to us to publish
it, but it's a big thrill for her. And she has been just remarkably
enthusiastic throughout the project. She talks about it every time that we've
had a conversation.
LAMB: Has she read it yet?
Mr. BALZ: She has not read it yet, no. She will get an early copy
and she will read it, I think, probably the night she gets it. But
she--you know, every time I would talk to her on the phone, it would be,
`How's it going?' And if I ever suggested that, you know, I'd had a bad day,
I mean, she would get alarmed and--so I tried to be upbeat with her so that it
didn't alarm her too much that there were rough patches in trying to do the
LAMB: Is she political?
Mr. BALZ: She is--she's moderately political. She's not what you would call
a political activist, but she pays a lot of attention to current
events. She's a big C-SPAN watcher, as you know. She's a big fan of yours,
as you know. But she watches a lot of current events. She pays a lot of
attention. I didn't grow up in a household in which we talked politics all
LAMB: What did your dad do?
Mr. BALZ: My dad was a sales manager for a battery company. It was a small
family-owned battery company that's been, by now, long eaten up by other
corporations--called Burgess Battery--and spent most of his life doing that;
eventually became the vice president of this company. And then, in his early
50s, decided he'd had enough with that world and the sort of the
corporate merger world and left the company and started a small travel
agency in our hometown, which still exists. It's owned by other people now.
LAMB: And did he die in the middle of your book here?
Mr. BALZ: No. No. He died a long time ago.
LAMB: Oh, yeah?
Mr. BALZ: He died in 1977. So...
LAMB: Did you grow up in Freeport, Illinois?
Mr. BALZ: I grew up in Freeport. I was born in Freeport and stayed in
Freeport until I went off to college.
LAMB: Did you know growing up that a presidential assassin lived in that
Mr. BALZ: There was some talk of it. And we didn't know much about it, but,
yes, it was a--there was a--not a lot about it.
LAMB: History mean anything to you when you were growing up?
Mr. BALZ: Some, yes.
LAMB: Where'd you get an interest in journalism?
Mr. BALZ: I got interested in journalism in a couple of different ways. I
got interested in journalism--I worked on the high school newspaper and I
worked on the high school yearbook. But at that point, I didn't really have
the bug. I got interested in journalism when I went to college, and it was
through a couple of things. I have an older brother, who I mentioned there in
the notes, who is three years older than I am and is a magazine
editor at the Chicago Tribune Magazine. He was at the University of Illinois
a few years ahead of me, and when I got to campus and was looking around for
something to do in addition to studying--or perhaps as opposed to studying--he
said, `Join the college newspaper,' which I did. And the University
of Illinois newspaper was a five-day-a-week daily. I mean, it was a real
newspaper. And at that point, I got hooked on journalism.
I later got hooked on politics and journalism, in part, actually, by reading
"The Making of the President" in 1960. That was the one book that really
sparked my interest. And then I did an internship in Washington in a
congressional office when I was a--after my sophomore year in college. And
ever after, the two were just, for me, joined that I wanted to be
a journalist and I wanted to do Washington and perhaps cover politics.
LAMB: Who did you intern from?
Mr. BALZ: John Anderson, who was from Rockford, Illinois, which was near
Freeport, and he was my local congressman.
LAMB: You know, speaking of books, you cite a book in here--actually, I don't
remember what chapter it's in. There are a couple of things on one
page that I wanted to ask you about; this is incidental stuff--that
you referenced a Kevin Phillips book, "The Emerging Republican Majority,"
which was written back in the early...
Mr. BALZ: Back in the...
LAMB: ...late '60s, early '70s.
Mr. BALZ: 1969.
LAMB: Does that come true?
Mr. BALZ: Remarkably. I mean, to go back and read it now is to
see a guy who really had a fix on where the country was going. I mean, it--I
had read parts of it a long time ago and went back and reread a lot of it, and
particularly the Southern parts of it. And he had not only an
understanding of sort of how the South was evolving, but the reasons why the
South would eventually break away from the Democratic Party. I mean, it's
a wonderful book to go back and look at now.
LAMB: It's one of your chapters, too.
Mr. BALZ: Right. Yeah.
LAMB: ...the odd--also, you--on the same page, it says--you mention Don
Fowler, who is today the chairman of the Republican--or the Democratic
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: But you say the author was of a monograph you're talking about was
Don Fowler, who, in early '95, after Southern Democrats had suffered one
of their worst defeats, was chosen as the chairman of the Democratic National
Committee. But where was he back in 1968?
Mr. BALZ: Don was in South Carolina. He was a political activist and he was
teaching at the college level, I believe at the University of South Carolina,
but I'm not for sure of that. But he was studying—he was both a practitioner
and a student of politics, and particularly Southern politics. And he began
to see and wrote a monograph to this effect, that the Democratic Party was
beginning to erode quite seriously in the South, and it was his prediction that
unless something dramatic changed that by--in 20 or 30 years, you would have
a reversal in the South. You would go from what was then a strong, one-party,
solid, Democratic South to a South that would be probably strongly Republican;
that a whole series of factors were bringing about the rise of the Republican Party.
LAMB: And you name Carroll Campbell in this chapter as being a significant
person to talk a lot about. Why?
Mr. BALZ: Well, we decided to look at Carroll Campbell in this chapter
having to do with the South--the South has been written about a lot as a
changing environment, and what we wanted to do was talk about how '94 fit in
with historical changes. We looked at two states in that chapter in some
detail, one being South Carolina and one being Texas. We chose them for a
couple of reasons. We wanted one state that was kind of from the outer South,
a bigger state, a more urban state; that's Texas. We then wanted a state from
the old South, the old Confederacy. And in many ways, South Carolina has led
the way in terms of becoming a Republican state.
Carroll Campbell played a very significant role in that. Campbell was
elected to Congress in 1978. He was elected governor in 1986; wasn't the
first Republican governor in South Carolina, but he was the first Republican
governor who really took root. And Carroll Campbell was not only an effective
governor as a governor; he was a very shrewd and tough partisan political
operator. Carroll Campbell was very close friends with the late Lee
Atwater, who also grew up in South Carolina, and together they had a--kind of
a sense, both from working together in the state and also participating in
national campaigns, of how to try to build a party in the South.
So we look at the role Campbell played once he became governor in
trying to convert the state from solidly Democratic to somewhat more
two-partied to a state that now is more solidly Republican; it's not
absolutely Republican. But after 1994, they gained control of the state
House of Representatives. And because they had an early swearing in,
swore in the first speaker in the South since Reconstruction.
LAMB: You say that between 1961 and 1991, median family income in the South,
adjusted for inflation, increased from $20,228 to $31,940 while the percentage
of Southerners holding college degrees rose from 6.9 percent to 12.3 percent.
What's the significance of that?
Mr. BALZ: Well, the significance of that is that the--during the period from
the early '60s to the 1990s, there was a creation of a significant middle
class in the South that had not existed in the early days after World War II.
The South, as you know, is--has historically been the most impoverished
region in the country. But the rise of the middle class in the South was
also very important to the rise of the Republicans in the South. It created a
level of middle management; it created suburbs; it created an environment that
had not existed and an environment, frankly, that's very attractive
for Republicans to organize, to recruit and to build a cadre of
supporters that they had never had before. So the economic success of the
South was very important in turning the South from a one-party region into a
competitive region that's now more controlled by the Republicans.
LAMB: You know, I was reading in the notes on Chapter 3, which is
another one of your chapters, The Long March...
Mr. BALZ: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...in which you say that--you're talking about the Conservative
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: And you listed who was helpful, and the names were Vin Weber, Bob
Walker, Connie Mack, Steve Gunderson, Nancy Johnson, Tom Tauke and Gingrich.
This is the way you wrote it.
Mr. BALZ: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And it struck me, Vin Weber's gone from Congress; Bob Walker's leaving
Congress; Connie Mack's in the United States Senate; Steve Gunderson's
leaving; Nancy Johnson's left and is chairman of the Ethnics Committee; and
Tom Tauke works for Nynex...
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: ...the telephone company. And you've got Mr. Gingrich left.
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Mr. BALZ: Well, I think it means that a lot of these people who were there at
the beginning and helped to create what we, in the book, call the Gingrich
generation have, understandably, moved on but have been very--but were very
important in the rise of this more conservative, harder-edged, more aggressive
partisanship that now characterizes the House and I think, in some ways,
the Senate. Some of them have moved on because they've
sought higher office. Some of them moved on simply because they had decided
they'd spent enough time in the House. Bob Walker is still there but is
retiring after this term, which, frankly, was a little bit of a surprise to
me. But Walker was one of Gingrich's closest allies throughout that entire
early period. But it--I think it marked the evolution of the party as much as
LAMB: Talk about what works. You have this organization
called the Conservative Opportunity Society. What was it and when was it
Mr. BALZ: Well, the Conservative Opportunity Society was, in many ways, Newt
Gingrich's vehicle to power in the House. It was started after the 1982
elections. Gingrich, who was--Gingrich had this dream of a Republican House
from the moment he came to Congress, if not before. In 1978, he'd just been
elected to the House. He went in to see Guy Vander Jagt, who was then
the chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, and he
said--I mean, this was a guy who hadn't served one day in Congress, but he
said, `The thing we don't have is we don't have a long-term plan to make
the House a Republican House.' And Vander Jagt, who was blown away by
both the audacity and the--sort of the vision of Gingrich at
that time, said, `I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm going to make you the
chairman of a task force to try to make it happen.'
Well, after 1982, Gingrich was discouraged. The House--the Republicans had
made significant gains when Reagan came to power in 1980. In 1982, because of
the recession, the Republicans lost 26 seats in the midterm election.
Gingrich is discouraged. He goes off to New York to meet with Richard Nixon.
And Nixon says, `One of the problems with the House is that you have never, in
the House, been able to develop--or the party has never been able to develop a
core or a cadre of activists who are interested in issues and who will push a
So Gingrich came back with the idea of finding people who he thought
were young, who were conservative, who were aggressive and who believed
that it was possible to try to make the House Republicans into a majority
party and he began to recruit them. And one of the first people he
recruited was Vin Weber, who was a new congressman from Minnesota at the time.
And I remember Weber said to us, `He came up to me one day on the House
floor and he said, "What are you doing the next year and maybe the next 10?"'
And Gingrich began to recruit this small cadre of people, and they would sit
on weekends and have meetings and talk about where the party should go. What
were the issues that they could use to attract people? And they devised a
whole set of techniques to harass and hector and upset the Democratic
majority in the House, and they were very effective at it.
They polarized the House. They alarmed a lot of the elder Republicans in
the House who thought they were too brash and too partisan and, in some
ways, too far to the right. But they kept on, and it was a steady
process. And they found ways to build a larger and larger cadre of support,
not simply for all their ideas--I mean, that was part of it--but also to give
the Republicans a sense of possibility that they could become a majority. I
mean, most of the Republicans in the House who had been there had served
almost their entire careers in the minority, and for many of them, Gingrich
felt there was a minority mind-set or minority attitude. And part of what he
wanted to do through COS was to change that mind-set.
LAMB: In the previous chapter, you also reference a lot of Chuck Robb
speeches, a senator from Virginia--the Democrat--when he talks, lays down kind
of a set of policies regarding the Democratic Leadership Council. Now when
was that formed? And what impact has that had on the system?
Mr. BALZ: The Democratic Leadership Council was formed after the 1984
election. It was formed primarily by a lot of elected officials, mostly from
the South. There were some from other parts of the country, but it was mostly
Southern-based. Their view was that the national Democratic Party had simply
become too liberal, that it had been captured by special interests and
that if the Democrats were ever to win back the white
middle class particularly in the South, they needed to develop a different
sort of agenda, and Robb was one of the early leaders of the DLC.
Part of what was going on then was a debate within the Democratic Party
about what their future ought to look like, and it involved sort of three
theories: One was kind of the putting together again, reassembling
the New Deal coalition, and Mondale, in 1984, represented that. There were
also the neo-liberals, the Gary Harts, the--some of the--what they were
called in those days, Atari Democrats, who had a different formulation of what
the party ought to do. Finally, there was the Democratic Leadership Council,
out of which came Bill Clinton.
The DLC is important because Clinton began his--and worked through his
analysis of the problems of the party as a member of the DLC and eventually
as chairman of the DLC, which preceded his 1992 campaign.
LAMB: Let me go back to kind of a question I asked earlier. As you think
about this stuff and write about it, again, are the leaders leading or are
Mr. BALZ: Well, I think--I mean, I think it's a combination of both,
Brian. Somebody like Gingrich, I think, led the Republican Party toward
something that he thought was possible. I mean, if you talk to Gingrich
about it, he'll say all of the seeds were there. I mean, there
were things happening; there were things changing. His sense was that
the country was moving in a Republican direction and that, over
time, it would eventually get there.
Similarly in the Democratic Party. I mean, they could see that they were--I
mean, if, you know, you put it in the context of--you know,
of business, they were losing market share. I mean, the ideas that they
had had were no longer selling in the way they had back in the 1960s and even,
to some extent, in the 1970s. They had held on for a variety of reasons.
They were entrenched in the House, in particular, and also for a long time
in the Senate. But they were clearly in trouble. They were having trouble
rationalizing the old New Deal coalition in a way that fit for the 1980s and
LAMB: You talked about the 726--or whatever it may--that number may not
be right--Blast faxed radio stations...
Mr. BALZ: Right. Right.
LAMB: ...on the right--the Democratic Leadership Council, the Conservative
Opportunity Society. Then you mention in the book two other things--two
Wednesday meetings, one held by Grover Norquist and one held by Paul
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: ...both conservatives. And tell us how those meetings work.
Mr. BALZ: Well, they're really sets of meetings in which
conservative activists, mostly based in Washington, get together to talk about
the direction of the party. Paul Weyrich has been at the heart of the
conservative movement for many years. He has been here for a couple of
decades, actually, and has been influential and was particularly influential
in the late 1970s and the early 1980s in developing conservative doctrine and
conservative grass-roots activity. Grover Norquist heads Americans For Tax
Reform, and Grover is a newer conservative activist who is plugged
into the grass roots. And each of them had their series of meetings about how
to proceed, what the party ought to be doing.
But there was a time in 1994, and particularly early in 1995, when the
Norquist meetings became the place to be. Norquist was much closer to
Gingrich than Weyrich was. He was one of the people who was down in
Atlanta on the night of the election in 1994. So that the Norquist meetings
became the kind of--the place to--conservative activists wanted to be to find
out what was going on, to figure out how to push the revolution.
LAMB: You have a quote in the book from Newt Gingrich and it--you say
here that it--`Sitting in his office one steamy summer afternoon in 1995,
chomping on a sandwich.' Were you there...
Mr. BALZ: Yes.
LAMB: ...with him?
Mr. BALZ: Yeah.
LAMB: `Glowing in the success of his book, "To Renew America." He looked
over the horizon with cautious confidence.' Quote, `"I do think there is a
potential that literally enough different things finally came together in 1994
that you're really entering a different political era," he said between bites,
"but we will find out next year whether it's an aberration."' That's this
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: What's your guess?
Mr. BALZ: I think what we have seen is that the Republicans had some kind of
a mandate after 1994 but that they, in some ways, perhaps overinterpreted the
mandate, which is a natural mistake that politicians often make, particularly
after they come off a big victory. I think it--we--I think we don't know and
may not know even after 1996 whether this is the beginning of a new era or
whether we are in a period of instability. Our sense is that we're in the
middle of a period of real instability.
No doubt that the country has moved to the right. No doubt that the country
has become disillusioned with a lot of ideas about big government, Great
Society programs that government can't solve problems. All of that helped the
Republicans in 1994 get to where they are, and a lot of that's still out
there; there's no question about it. But it took the Democrats from Franklin
Roosevelt through Lyndon Johnson, 36 years, to put together what we now think
of as the era of liberal government. Twenty-six of those 36 years, the
Democrats held both the White House and the Congress.
The Republicans have tried to do an enormous amount of change in one year.
They've tried to undo a lot of what happened over 36 years in one year. And
the question really is whether they have overstepped in trying to do too much.
I mean, they're--for the Republicans to do what they want to do, our sense is
that they have to sustain power. You can't do everything in the two-year
cycle. You can't undo the kind of government that built up over 36 years in a
two-year period or even a four-year period.
So what the Republicans need is public support for their ideas and confidence
from the public that that they are on the right track and will
continue in a direction they want. To the degree to which they alarm the
voters, people could easily swing back, not necessarily embracing a Democratic
view more than a Republican view, but uncertain about where the Republicans
LAMB: You also write in here--and this is not one of your chapters, but you
say, `Of all the electoral possibilities that can be imagined for the next few
years, the least likely is Democrats receiving a mandate to enlarge the scope
of federal intervention in American life.'
Mr. BALZ: Well, I think what you've seen in the way President Clinton
conducted himself throughout 1995 and seems to be heading into early 1996,
that he doesn't believe that there is mandate to enlarge government. Part of
his failure in 1993 and 1994 was overestimating the degree to which the 1992
election was a kind of a mandate for government activism. I mean, Clinton
needed and was unable first to restore confidence in government at a time when
there's deep distrust about whether government can solve problems and a lot of
skepticism about politicians.
To do a lot of the things that he wanted to do, he needed to restore that
faith in government and he was unable to do that. If Clinton were to be
re-elected in 1996, it's unlikely, given the direction he's charted
since the '94 elections, that he's going to suddenly go back and begin to
advocate a lot of big government.
LAMB: The book--by the way, what do you think of your cover?
Mr. BALZ: I like the cover a lot.
LAMB: Who did it?
Mr. BALZ: Little, Brown, our publisher, did it. Their art department did it.
LAMB: Did they ask you anything about this?
Mr. BALZ: Well, they did. And we actually made one suggestion. The original
of the cover had the White House instead of the Capitol. And we thought that
symbolically, "Storming The Gates" --the Capitol worked better than the
White House. So...
LAMB: Where did the title come from?
Mr. BALZ: The title was one of several that we came up with. Our first title
was "Sowing the Wind," which we thought talked about the Republican effort to
kind of stir the grass roots and the anti-government sentiment. And the folks
at Little, Brown thought that that was too poetic and they decided they
didn't like it. We went through a couple of others, and we finally settled on
"Storming The Gates" as symbolic of what the Republicans had done in 1994 and
kind of this assault on Washington.
LAMB: When you open the book up, there's a little note inside by Richard
Reeves. This is a quote--Richard Reeves, author of "President Kennedy
Profile: Power." And I guess I want to ask you what are we
to make of this comment? "Suppose they gave a revolution and nobody watched.
`Storming The Gates' is the biggest political story of the 1990s, and most of
us missed it. This is an amazing chronicle of how open and exciting American
politics can be from the bottom up, even if you don't like the results. They
worked, we slept and now the country is theirs for a while." What's he mean
Mr. BALZ: Well, I think he means two things. The second half of that, I
think he means that he would prefer Democrats in charge rather than
Republicans in charge but that the Republicans did the work
necessary to bring about the results of '94 and that the country and
particularly the Democrats will have to live with them for a while.
I think the first part of it has to do with things that were going on in the
country that are somewhat easier to understand after they've happened than
before they've happened. One of the points we make in this book--and in
some ways, it's a kind of a central thesis of the book--is that the Republican
Party--for 40 years, communism was the glue that held the Republican Party
together. The end of the Cold War caused that to dissolve so that the
kind of--the adhesive that had held the Republican coalition together
and, in many ways, had activated it was gone and the party needed to
do something different in order to energize itself and rebuild itself.
They discovered Washington could be as much a glue as communism had been.
And they tried to create themselves--or re-create themselves
as the anti-government, anti-Washington party. This was going on in a lot of
different places. The power on the right at the grass roots was much
greater than the power on the left, whether it's the National Rifle
Association or the anti-tax movement or religious conservatives. There was
energy on the right. They brought that together by focusing their anger at
Washington. `Government is the problem. Washington is what's standing in
The Democrats had no counter to that. Grass-roots activity on the left has
not been as strong. The labor movement has not been as strong politically as
it was 20 years ago. The civil rights movement has not been as strong as it
was 20 years ago. So there was no counterbalance. But it took the
1994 election for all of us to really see how significant that was, and I
think that's what he's talking about.
LAMB: By the way, where does the name Balz come from?
Mr. BALZ: It's German--German.
LAMB: How long ago was the family there?
Mr. BALZ: Family migrated to the States in the late 1800s.
LAMB: How did you and Ron Brownstein get together?
Mr. BALZ: Ron and I got to know one another covering politics. We both share
a former employer; we both worked at National Journal magazine but at
different times. I was long gone. Ron's the younger member of this
group--this pairing. And we met covering politics, and I have always been
a huge admirer of Ron's work.
And the origin of this book we mentioned a little bit in that in the
acknowledgments--Dave Broder said to me, I guess it was in August of '94...
LAMB: Washington Post.
Mr. BALZ: Washington Post, dean of political correspondents, longtime
friend--Dave said to me, `You know, this is going to be a big year and there's
going to be a good book to do on the Republicans.' And
he said, `You ought to think about doing it.' And I went off on vacation and
we were driving around New England, and the more I thought about it, the more
I thought, `He's absolutely right.' It was a book I really wanted to try to
do. And I came back and the one question I had was, `Could I produce a
book fast enough to look at what happened in 1994, to try to bring a lot of
this together and to have it out before the 1996 election?' Our--my sense
was that you had to move quickly on a book like this; that it--and I thought,
`I need a co-author.'
And I sort of thought about people, and Ron came to mind. I mean, Ron
and I often cover the same events. We end up covering them from
somewhat different perspectives. He's got a wonderful analytical
mind. He's a terrific, bright writer and I thought, `If I could get him in on
this project, this book would be a lot better than if I did it alone.' Not
only would I get it--would it get done on time, but it would be a lot better
book than if I just did it alone.
So I approached Ron. We went to lunch one day in September of '94, and I
said, `Here's the deal. I mean, there's a good book to do. I
think we ought to do it together,' and he almost instantly said yes.
LAMB: You also say something about your wife, Nancy Balz. You want
to--you're `indebted to her for her love and friendship and for encouragement
throughout this project...'
Mr. BALZ: That's right.
LAMB: `...in spite of the disruption that came with it.' But here's the
line. `So she has been through this with so'--`She has been through this with
so ma--with other authors, but never quite in'--I'm not reading very
well--`but never in quite so intimate a way.' What did you mean?
Mr. BALZ: She is a librarian, and after our son John was born in 1978, she
began to do book research. And she was the researcher on a book that
was published in the early '80s called "The Nine Nations of North
America" by Joel Garreau, which was a wonderfully inventive book about how
America was really organized as opposed to the 50 states. She has done other
book research for several other different authors over the years, so she had
seen the book process, but she'd never had her life disrupted
in quite the way from this one, although, in this case, she was not a
researcher on the book; she sort of let me alone and said, you know, `You
do the book and I'll worry about it later.' So--but she had never had it in
her house in quite the same way as this one was.
LAMB: How did you two check and balance each other in this process? I
Mr. BALZ: It's a very interesting question. We had a wonderful
collaboration and we divided up the chapters. We did some of the interviewing
together, but a lot of the interviewing we did on our own. This book was
produced under a very tight deadline, and so we--you know, we were kind of
going down separate tracks.
LAMB: What was the time frame?
Mr. BALZ: Well, we didn't get a contract until February of
1995, and we were working at our respective newspapers until June of '95. And
then we took off June, July, August and much of September and worked full
time on the book and then went back to work when we had finished the
manuscript and did the final changes and corrections until November. And then
Little, Brown, which was terrific, produced this on a very quick schedule.
So we both had our hands full. I mean, we had a lot of writing to
do; we had a lot of research that we had to do. There were--I mean, each of
these chapters tells a couple of different stories, and what we found was that
there was--we knew, in general, starting out on each chapter kind of the
story we wanted to tell, but there was lots that we didn't know and we just
had to do a lot of work. So each of us went about producing our chapters.
And then we traded the chapters. And, particularly, once the book was
finally done, we spent a lot of time reworking one another's work.
We write in somewhat different voices, and our editor, Freddie Friedman at
Little, Brown, wanted to make sure that this book did not sound too much like
it was written by two different people. So we traded the chapters and he
would rework my prose and I would rework his until we finally got everything
we wanted. Now in some cases, we traded information; we traded stuff from the
interviews and that sort of thing, but that was pretty much how we did it.
Now he worked at his house; I worked at mine. And we talked every day
numerous times about how things were going, working through ideas, sort of,
`What are the points we want to make in this chapter? What are the ways we
make those?' He was particularly helpful to me in a couple of chapters. I
think I was helpful to him in a couple of chapters, just in kind of shaping
and framing and--you know, it's great to have a co-author on something
like this because you're working through a lot of different things at once.
And to have somebody else to bounce the ideas off of and, really, to
sharpen the ideas was very--very useful.
LAMB: In the introduction, you say, `The best source of public attitudes
toward government over time is the national election study conducted by the
University of Michigan's Center for Political Studies. It is the source of
all the poll data in this section.' Fred Steeprie you mention--his intriguing
analysis about the two forms of public discontent with government appear and
who will reconnect with the people.
Mr. BALZ: Right.
LAMB: What's so special about the national election study at the University
Mr. BALZ: It has the best historical data on public attitudes about politics
and government, and lots of work that has been done, particularly on issues
about trust in government, come from the University of Michigan's historical
data. It is much easier to understand where we are today by having
available to us the data which shows how the country has changed over time,
and particularly on the trust in government numbers. I mean, if you look at
those, back in the 1960s, trust in government was very high, and it has--as we
say in the book, it's like a rock falling from ledge to ledge because of
particular events, whether it's the war in Vietnam or Watergate or
stagflation or whatever. The University of Michigan data is
indispensable in trying to kind of see the forest through the trees.
LAMB: You also talk--when it comes to data, you also talk about Stan
Greenberg's analysis of the Perot voter. What did you learn from that?
Mr. BALZ: Well...
LAMB: And who is Stan Greenberg?
Mr. BALZ: Stan Greenberg was President Clinton's pollster during the 1992
campaign and, actually, has been pollster for the Democrats and the
Democratic Party during the Clinton administration. Stan has been one of the
people who had did--who did a lot of the good work on trying to figure out how
the Democrats, if they were to expand the Clinton majority of 1992--how and
why they needed to attract the Perot voters. And he did a big poll for the
Democratic Leadership Council back in 1993, I believe it was, looking at the
Perot voter, what their attitudes were, what their historical political roots
were and what were the ways in which Democrats, and particularly
Clinton, might be able to bring them into his coalition.
I mean, to some extent, one of the things that's happened is--that parallel we
look at is Nixon in 1968 won the presidency with 43 percent of the vote.
Clinton in 1992 won the presidency with 43 percent of the vote. Each one
had a third-party candidate: George Wallace in 1968; Perot in 1992. Nixon
was able to consolidate the Wallace voter in a way that Clinton, particularly
through 1994, was unable to consolidate the Perot voter, and a lot of that was
the reason that the 1994 election went so far in the other direction. The
Perot voters voted overwhelmingly for Republicans in the 1994 House elections.
LAMB: Will he be on the ballot in 1996, Mr. Perot? And if he is, what impact
will he have?
Mr. BALZ: Well, if he is on the ballot, he helps Clinton.
LAMB: Will he?
Mr. BALZ: I tend to think yes, but it's questionable.
LAMB: And why does he help Bill Clinton?
Mr. BALZ: Well, because a three-party race is better for Clinton. He's
likely to do more to damage the Republican nominee. A lot of his
voters would be more inclined to support a Republican nominee, although
things have changed in the Perot movement since 1992. The
composition of people who now are supporters of Perot or Perot's ideas is
somewhat different than it was in 1992. I think to some extent, it's a little
more economically downscaled. Perot's opposition to NAFTA and GATT have
created more support among probably blue-collar workers than he had in 1992,
so that we really won't know until we get into the campaign and--if
Perot is a candidate, exactly how it will cut. But the Clinton White
House would certainly much rather have him as a candidate than the
Republican Party would.
LAMB: You talk about a scenario where Newt Gingrich asked for an
unprecedented commitment from members back in the '94 election, where each
member was expected to come up with $148,000?
Mr. BALZ: This was part of the Gingrich master plan for winning the '94
election, and it came in two parts. Joe Gaylord, who is Gingrich's
top political adviser, had been asked by Gingrich to devise a plan to win the
House in 1994. This was after two special election victories in the spring of
1994. Gaylord set out what was a very elaborate or a--I would--I guess
ambitious would be a better word. If you see the document, it's
pretty--there's not a lot of verbiage in it. But it outlines an enormous
number of tasks for the Republicans to try to undertake. One of them is to
create the resources--financial resources to make available to candidates so
that their candidates have enough money in the last three or four weeks of the
campaign to put up the television advertising, to get out the vote, to do the
things that they have to do to turn them from a candidate who falls a few
points short of winning to someone who wins.
Part of this was the Gingrich letter, which went out in July of 1994 to every
Republican in the House, asking them for this unprecedented commitment.
Gingrich basically said, `If we're going to win this election, you have to
take responsibility for helping to raise the kind of money that we need.' Now
they came up with the idea of $148,000 because, at the time, there were about
150 competitive House races. And the shorthand was, if you
know, if you can get $1,000 to each of those House candidates, that will be a
big help. So they asked members to try to do that.
Some members raised a huge amount of money: $400,000, $500,000, $600,000.
Others raised less than that. But the Republicans had much more money
available for House candidates than they'd ever had before through that
process. And it was ingenious, in part, because what it did was it allowed
incumbents to raise money--incumbents always have an easier time raising
money--and moving that into races by challengers, who have a harder time
LAMB: You also--in the introduction, you lump a whole bunch of groups
together: the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of
Independent Business, the Christian Coalition, Charles Murray, Bill Bennett
and Rush Limbaugh. And you say also in here that `No medium had a greater
effect on establishing the climate of the 1994 elections than talk radio, and
no one played a more prominent role in stirring up conservatives in the
cherubic but devastating Rush Limbaugh, the irreverent and indomitable
conservative who fused the sensibilities of Ed Meese and John Belushi into
three hours of relentless Clinton bashing every day.' Do you listen?
Mr. BALZ: I listen sometimes. Unfortunately, I'm usually not near a radio
at the time Limbaugh's on, which is over the noon hour and into the afternoon.
When I'm out on the campaign trail, I do try to tune him in. And
particularly, in that period, he was both entertaining and he was
devastating for Clinton. I mean, he delivered, every day, a strong attack on
Bill Clinton and the Clinton administration. Now...
LAMB: How is it working now?
Mr. BALZ: Well, I think it works differently now. I mean, it's
much more difficult once you come into power to continue that kind of drumbeat
as when you're out of power. I mean, Limbaugh and talk radio, but
particularly Limbaugh, were important, one, in telling like-minded
conservatives that they had a voice and sort of bringing them together and
giving them a sense of a larger sense of possibility. The other was, he
gave people arguments. I mean, he gave people ammunition. He provided people
at the grass roots, whether it's ordinary voters who had a sense of why they
didn't like Clinton or wanted to do something about it, to candidates for
state legislative offices or candidates for Congress or whatever, with ideas
and arguments to use to make their case with other people. But also,
it was this huge sort of energizing force. It was a way for the
conservative movement to kind of stir the grass roots, to stoke the anger.
LAMB: This is a--I don't know if I can articulate this question
right, but we'll get it. The Balz Award for Most Effective Political
Operative--now that can either be an elected politician or a non-elected
politician. You look back over the last couple years, in all your
research--and we mentioned Joe Gaylord and Grover Norquist and Paul Weyrich
and Kevin Phillips and Newt Gingrich and on and on and on. Who would you give
the award to if you wanted to give somebody who's been the most effective
person in getting what they wanted out of the system over the last two years?
Mr. BALZ: I think, hands down, it would have to be Gingrich. Gingrich
was--within the party, the visionary who saw where this thing
might go. But more important, Gingrich created a cadre of people who
began to believe in the ideas and he gave them a lot of the information. I
mean, even before talk radio, Gingrich had an organization called GOPAC.
He inherited GOPAC from Pete du Pont, who was the governor of Delaware. When
he founded it, it was originally developed as a way to create a farm team in
state legislatures for the Republican Party so they would have better
One of the problems the party had always had was they never had a lot of bench
strength, and du Pont had this notion that you could develop that if you
tried to put money into campaigns in state legislatures. At any rate, when he
ran for president in 1988, he decided he didn't want the organization to get
entangled in his political campaign, so he looked around for somebody to give
it off to. He didn't know Gingrich at the time; never really gotten to know
him. But the more he heard about Gingrich, the more he thought, `Here's a guy
who wants to build the party.' Goes to Gingrich one day and says, `I'd like
to give you GOPAC,' and took Gingrich probably 10 seconds to say, `Yes,
I'll take it.'
Gingrich converted GOPAC into --from just what was an organization that
mostly dispensed money to an educational organization, a political machine, a
recruiting tool in which he gave candidates the wherewithal to run for office.
And over time, that brought in a larger and larger number of people who
believed in kind of the Gingrich view of government, the Gingrich view of the
welfare state, but also believed that Republicans could become the majority.
So that--Gingrich saw this clear from an earlier point of view than anybody
else. And I think if you talk to anybody in the House, they will say
they would not be there today in the majority were it not for Gingrich.
Now as we saw in 1995, once Gingrich was speaker, he has his own flaws and
his own problems, and he's created problems for the party.
LAMB: University of Illinois?
Mr. BALZ: University of Illinois.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. BALZ: 1968 and then a master's in 1972.
LAMB: How long with the Post?
Mr. BALZ: Since 1978.
LAMB: How did you get that job?
Mr. BALZ: I was at National Journal, and I was anxious at that point to go
back to daily journalism, although I hadn't spent a lot of time in daily
journalism at that point. But I wanted to work for a newspaper. It was--it's
actually a funny story. I covered, among other things, economic policy and
agriculture at the National Journal. Somebody I knew, knew an editor at the
Post who was looking for an editor on the national desk, and a year after the
initial contact, I got the job.
LAMB: Of all your accomplishments in life, where do you put this book?
Mr. BALZ: In terms of professional accomplishments, very high on the list.
I'm very proud of the book. I've wanted to write a book for a long time. I
had a couple of false starts. So to finally get this done is, for me,
very, very satisfying. And to have had Ron as a partner is equally...
LAMB: And what do you want to last in this book? In other words, what's new
and what--you know, 10 years from now, what do you want this book to be?
Mr. BALZ: I think what we hope is that people will read this book to get a
better understanding of why we are at where we are in American politics. What
are the forces that brought about the Republican victory in 1994? But more
importantly, what are the destabilizing forces through the middle of the
1990s and why both parties are under--kind of under assault?
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. The author--co-author, Dan Balz, of
Freeport, Illinois; Washington, DC; Washington Post; and his co-author there,
Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times. Thank you very much for joining
Mr. BALZ: Brian, thank you very much.
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