House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.) tonight called for the resignation of Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman unless Darman is willing to "recant" a speech widely interpreted as an attack on conservatives.
Referring to House Republicans, Gingrich said that if his remarks were "unacceptable to my conference, I will resign" as party whip.
Gingrich, who in September led a revolt of House Republicans against a budget deal that Darman had negotiated, repeatedly compared Darman to Michael S. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee.
"Darman either must withdraw the speech or leave," Gingrich said. "If he stands by the written speech of one week ago, I don't see how we can work with a Republican Dukakis. . . Darman has crossed the Rubicon."
Gingrich, commenting at a small dinner organized by the American Spectator, a conservative magazine, referred to an address Darman gave Nov. 16 in which he strongly criticized policy ideas of conservative White House aides, including James P. Pinkerton, deputy assistant for economic and domestic policy planning.
Pinkerton and his White House allies have been advocating what they call a "new paradigm" in social policy that emphasizes programs like education vouchers to allow poor children to attend private schools, and sale of public housing units to tenants.
Darman ridiculed this conservative agenda as "neo-neo-ism." In his speech to members of the Council for Excellence in Government, an organization of former senior government officials now in the private sector, Darman also took a shot at Gingrich, referring to "new Newt-ism."
Gingrich's remarks were a further escalation of the war in the Republican Party between conservatives, particularly House Republicans, and senior Bush aides.
Gingrich was careful to exempt President Bush from his critical remarks, but warned that the administration is in deep trouble.
President Jimmy Carter, he said, "tried to govern against his natural base and it destroyed him. Bush cannot govern against the Republican Party." But Gingrich reserved his toughest remarks for Darman, with whom he sparred during the budget negotiations. "He has more feeling for computers than for politicians," Gingrich said.
Gingrich, who scraped to a narrow victory in November's elections, said in a later interview that he made his remarks in part because he was mystified by Darman's attacks on him and other conservative Republicans.
"For reasons I don't understand, the director of the budget, instead of offering an olive branch, has offered an assault on members of his own party. It would be a disaster if the technocratic nihilism described in his speech were to lay the basis for the State of the Union message or the Bush budget."
Since the budget deal, Darman has become a lightning rod for conservative assaults on the Bush administration. His speech revealed that the fissures in the Republican Party extend beyond Congress into the administration.
Those who were publicly critical of the budget director afterward include Bush's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp.