WASHINGTON — IN the eyes of the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, it's been a mediocre first 100 days.
But Newt Gingrich, the conservative from Georgia, isn't talking just about President Clinton. "I'd give us about a C-plus," Mr. Gingrich told a Monitor breakfast yesterday, referring to the Republican Party.
Mr. Clinton did pass a series of bills in his first 100 days, though Gingrich attributes that to "two objective facts":
* It takes a congressional party "a lot longer time than 100 days to effectively defeat a president's interpretation of reality."
* The Democrats could spend the first 100 days passing bills that were "clearly thought out and clearly had commitments made under Bush, but were vetoed." They are finding "harder sledding" on bills that now have a real shot at being signed - such as campaign finance reform and a ban on replacement of striking workers.
A key question for Republicans, says Gingrich, is whether they can reform themselves enough to attract the 19 percent of the electorate that voted for Ross Perot last year. To do that, the party must become "more populist" and "more anti-traditional government."
Elsewhere on Gingrich's report card: For Clinton, a C or C-minus. For the House Democratic leadership, a B-plus. The Senate Democratic leadership gets a D, because "they set up their own defeat (on the economic stimulus bill), and then they extended it instead of collapsing."
Assessing the problems of Clinton's first 100 days, Gingrich sees "a natural tension" in the process caused by "a center-left political party trying to govern a center-right country.... The question is whether Clinton is capable of either rearticulating his party and his policies toward the center or of convincing the country to move to the center."
But Clinton, he adds, is a "very formidable political figure."