In 1997, just two years after their impressive show of unity on the Contract With America, the House Republicans were apparently turning into the House of Atreus. Squabbles high and low divided their leadership, demoralized their rank and file, and delighted their Democratic opponents. Many political commentators blamed this turmoil on the personal shortcomings of Speaker Gingrich and other top lawmakers. Such explanations did make some sense. At least part of the trouble stemmed from the Speaker's ethics problems and the leadership's poor political judgments about disaster-relief legislation.
But the House GOP's summer of discontent was neither a purely personal affair nor a total departure from the party's history: House Republicans suffered from serious factionalism during their long journey in the political wilderness (Connelly and Pitney 1994, ch. 2). While lacking in liberals and ethnic minorities, they still found many things to fight about, such as political strategy, institutional loyalty, and generational outlook. As Rohde (1991, 152–53) demonstrated in detail, House Republicans consistently had lower party-unity scores than Democrats throughout the Reagan years.
After they won their majority, swift House Republican action on the Contract left the widespread impression that they had turned into a lean, mean, quasi-military machine. That impression was misleading. According to an excellent analysis by James G. Gimpel (1996, 18), the Contract was a consensus document: party leaders included only items that already commanded broad agreement within the party (e.g., a balanced-budget amendment) and they excluded items that would stir dissent (e.g., anti-abortion legislation).