By 1985 the Republican Party was doing as well as it ever had perhaps in the entire 20th Century. With President Reagan just being reelected in a landslide over Walter Mondale in 1984. And Senate Republicans retaining control of the Senate and electing Bob Dole as their Leader. And House Republicans while still in the House minority, but with 190 or so seats. Giving them a chance to win control of the House in 1986. And make Bob Michael who was the Minority Leader the next Speaker of the House. The Republican Party had Ron Reagan as President, Bob Dole as Senate Leader and Bob Michael as their Leader in the House. With a popular President the Republican Party was probably at their height of power in 1985.
And the GOP also had young leaders in Congress that would lead the GOP in the 1990s working their way up the ranks. Like Representative Newt Gingrich who would later serve as Minority Whip and then Speaker of the House. Representative Trent Lott who served as Bob Michael’s Whip in the 1980s. Elected to the Senate in 1988 and then serve as both Majority Whip and Leader of the Senate in the mid and late 1990s. Dick Army was elected to the House in 1984 and of course serve as House Leader in the mid and late 1990s. So the Republican Party was looking pretty good in 1985, but they were also looking good for the future. But the question was where would the Republican Party go in the future. George H.W. Bush was Vice President and the presumptive frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 1988. Would they nominate him or go in another direction.
The conventional wisdom politically in Washington in the 1980s and early 90s was that there would be a Republican president. And a Democratic Congress or at least a Democratic House. That this situation worked very well in this period and that Americans preferred divided government anyway. But then Representative Newt Gingrich who was basically still a back bencher in the House put together what was called the Conservative Opportunity Society. Or something like that along with other House Republicans like, Bob Walker from Pennsylvania, Connie Mack from Florida, Trent Lott from Mississippi and others.
And the COS would work to elect enough Republicans to the House to win the majority there. Concentrate in areas like in the South, rural Midwest and West where the Democratic Party had seats there for a long time. But were moderate to conservative Democrats. And Representative Gingrich got the idea how come they could elect Conservative Republicans instead in these conservative districts. Gingrich saw these voters as naturally Republican anyway, why not bring them over to their camp instead.
It would be another ten years of course until there would be a Republican Congress the first in forty years House and Senate. But that work didn’t start in 1993-94 after the Republican Party lost the White House as well. With President Bush losing in an electoral landslide to Bill Clinton. But this work started really in late 1978 after Newt was just elected to the House. Thats when he put his group together. Representative Jack Kemp was also part of this working group. And had it not been for the recession of 1981-82, Iran Contra in 1986-87, that cost Senate Republicans the Senate and another recession in 1990-91, maybe there’s a Republican Congress pre-1995.