The Department of Government
The Department of Government

The Gingrich Senators and the U.S. Senate


Sean Theriault is known across the 40 acres for his renowned teaching abilities. A University Distinguished Teaching Professor, most recently Theriault was appointed one of 20 inaugural Provost Teaching Fellows. Also known across campus for his expertise on Congress, Theriault’s latest book, The Gingrich Senators: The Roots of Partisan Warfare in Congress, helps us understand the transformation of the traditionally collegial upper chamber into something resembling the more raucous House of Representatives.

The much-venerated Senate of the mid twentieth century is now a distant memory. Today, senators routinely electioneer on the Senate floor, play games with the legislative process, and question each other’s motives. Sean M. Theriault documents how one group of senators has been at the forefront of this transformation: the “Gingrich Senators,” which he defines as those Republicans who previously served in the House after Newt Gingrich was first elected in 1978. He shows how the Gingrich Senators are more conservative and more likely to engage in partisan warfare than the other Republicans. This fascinating study is crucial to understanding the intertwined fates of the Gingrich Senators and the U.S. Senate.

“The Gingrich Senators” is a fascinating exploration of a weird fact: Most of the polarization in the Senate can be attributed to Republican members of Congress who served with Newt Gingrich moving up to the Senate. Theriault’s case is convincing, and the implications are significant.” – Ezra Klein, Washington Post columnist

“Through a combination of political savvy, knowledge of the literature, rigorous methods and clear and concise writing, Sean Theriault has given us a superb book that well describes the current Senate and a driving force behind its dysfunction. The Gingrich Senators is invaluable to anyone wanting to understand contemporary American politics and Congress.” – Norman Ornstein, co-author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks

“Here is an exhilarating take on the contemporary Senate: Newt Gingrich did it! House members of the Speaker’s time and type moving to the Senate have made it more like the House. Theriault does a skilled and interesting analysis.” – David Mayhew, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University

“This book sheds new and surprising light on party polarization in the contemporary U.S. Senate. Theriault’s meticulous research uncovers that today’s polarization is largely attributable to a particular group of Senators: Republican former House members elected to Congress after 1978. In the mode of his previous books, Theriault makes his case through careful data analysis, concise figures, and telling anecdotes. This book will be required reading for Congress experts and for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the difficulties of governance in a party polarized era.” – Frances E. Lee, University of Maryland

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