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					Style, Skills, and Context: An Interactionist Exploration of Dennis Hastert’s Speakership

John E. Owens
The Centre for the Study of Democracy The University of Westminster 100 Park Village East, LONDON NW1 3SR, United Kingdom email

Paper presented to the Panel on A House Divided: Party Imperatives, Representation, and Deliberation at the annual meetings of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA, 5 – 9 January 2005. The author gratefully acknowledges financial assistance for this project provided under LRG-35418 by the British Academy and research assistance provided by Katherine Ng.

Research on congressional leadership faces enormous conceptual, analytical and empirical problems. Even that basic question as to what is political leadership is a highly contested and problematic concept in political science. 1 Notwithstanding its many variations, the logic of the rational choice or purposive approach – the dominant paradigm in political science - is to be able to explain action by deduction from general propositions: leaders are depicted as 'products of social, economic, or political forces or as responding rationally to institutionally structured situations'.2 Thus, most contemporary explanations of congressional leadership follow Cooper and Brady and Jones 3 and adopt a strongly contextualist approach that sees partisan context (interpreted as the preferences of party followers in the legislative chamber, which in turn are influenced by the preferences of partisan activists and voters) as determinative of leadership. Contemporary pivotal voter
5 4

and partisan theories of legislative

organisation also adopt this approach. In essence, these studies embrace what Mayhew calls 'a deductively flavoured kind of analysis' that casts public officials as agents or instruments of societal interests or preferences6 and allows little if any scope for leadership skills and styles exogenous to institutional context/intra-chamber party strength.7 Contextualist approaches to congressional leadership contrast with an older theory of political leadership identified best with the so-called Great Man (sic) theory, which sought to explain leadership and leadership effectiveness as a function of certain personal traits of leaders seen as essential to, or even required for, effective leadership. While exclusively traits-determined explanations are still often

See generally, Charles E. Merriam, Systematic Politics Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1966: 107; Burns, Leadership New York: Harper and Row, 1978: 2; Kenneth F. Janda, 'Toward the explication of the concept of leadership in terms of the concept of power' in Glenn D. Paige, ed., Political Leadership New York: The Free Press, 1972: 45-64.

Bryan D. Jones, 'Causation, Constraint, and Political Leadership' in Bryan D. Jones, ed., Leadership and Politics. New Perspectives in Political Science. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas: 3

Joseph Cooper and David W. Brady, ‘Institutional Context and Leadership Style: The House From Cannon to Rayburn’, American Political Science Review, 75 (1981): 423-24; Charles O. Jones, ‘House Leadership in an Age of Reform’ in Frank H. Mackaman, ed., Understanding Congressional Leadership. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1981: 118.

Krehbiel, Keith. Pivotal Politics: A Theory of US Lawmaking. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 1998: 172f.

David W. Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991; David W. Rohde and Kenneth A. Shepsle. 'Leaders and Followers in the House of Representatives: Reflections on Woodrow Wilson’s Congressional Government', Congress and the Presidency, 14 (1987): 111–133; John H. Aldrich and David W. Rohde, ‘Balance of Power: Republican Party Leadership and the Committee System in the 104th House. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago. 1997; John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde, 'The Consequences of Party Organization in the House: The Role of the Majority and Minority Parties in Conditional Party Government' in Jon R. Bond and Richard Fleisher, eds., Polarized Politics: Congress and the President in a Partisan Era. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000: 31–72; John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde, 'The Logic of Conditional Party Government: Revisiting the Electoral Connection' in Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered. 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2001: 269–292; Cox, and McCubbins. Legislative Leviathan; and Barbara Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking. The US House of Representatives in the Postreform Era. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

David R. Mayhew, America's Congress: Actions in the Public Sphere. James Madison Through Newt Gingrich. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2000: x.

Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking: 9. See also Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House: 172; Rohde, ‘Agenda Change and Partisan Resurgence in the House of Representatives’: 254.


found in political biography, they have rightly been abandoned in contemporary political science even though many political scientists rightly uphold the importance of personal factors, including leadership skills and leadership style.8 In the social psychology literature, traits-determined theories have been superseded by an interactionist approach towards leadership that is premised on the notion that outcomes are the result of a complex set of interactions among group members, as well as historical and other contextual factors. Modern business management literature, which is heavily influenced by the social psychology literature, offers a similar approach when it talks about the need for leadership to be conceptualised within the context of an interactive and interdependent system.9 The premises underpinning this interactive approach are: 1) that leaders cannot be separated from their historical and other types of contexts in which they operate or the culture of their working environment; and 2) that leaders are accountable for the performance of their organisation or the success of their party or movement that they lead regardless of the context in which it occurs. This approach, best identified in social psychology with Fiedler’s contingency theory, seeks to explain leadership and leadership effectiveness in terms of both the degree of 'favourableness' of the situation and the leader's characteristics.10 Situational favourableness is viewed as a function of good leader-member relations, a clearly structured task, and the leader's institutional power to distribute rewards and punishments to the members of the group. Effective leadership is not about exercising power-as-control but involves effective interaction between the leader's style and the situation: leadership style and effectiveness are contingent on certain specified contextual conditions and vice versa. Importantly, however, the interactionist approach recognises that that a leader may ultimately fail to bring about his/her intended outcomes or those outcomes may ultimately occur regardless of the efforts of the leader.11 An Interactionist Approach to Congressional Leadership In their discussion of twentieth century House leadership, Cooper and Brady in fact promise a 'contingency' or 'situational' approach but ultimately opt for a theory that views leadership as over

E.g. Richard F. Fenno, Congressmen in Committees. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co., 1973: 76ff; Richard F. Fenno, Home Style: House Members in Their Districts. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co., 1978; Richard E. Neustadt, Presidential Power. New York: John Wiley, 1960; James David Barber, Presidential Character. Predicting Performance in the White House. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 4th edition, 1992. W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2nd edition, 2000.
10 9

Fiedler's contingency model posits a leader's effectiveness in exercising leadership of a group seeking to solve a collective action problem as dependent upon the fit between his/her leadership style and the degree of 'favourableness' of the situation. Fred E. Fiedler, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967; Fred E. Fiedler, 'Leadership Effectiveness', American Behavioral Scientist, 24 (1981): 619-632; Fred E. Fiedler and Martin M. Chemers. Improving Leadership Effectiveness: The Leader Match Concept. New York: John Wiley and Co., 1984. See also David G. Winter, Personality. Analysis and Interpretation of Lives. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996: 675f; John W. Gardner, On Leadership. New York: The Free Press, 1990: 1-22. Most prominently,

Gardner, On Leadership.


determined by party strength. Personal leadership skills - such as those exercised by Rayburn during the era of committee government - are seen as significant only in very limited circumstances, essentially when party is weak. 12 Similarly, Rohde and Sinclair allow little scope for the behaviour and styles of individual leaders in their treatment of contemporary party government. Strong leadership occurs only when copartisans want or expect it; which occurs only when copartisans are in agreement on what leaders should do. 13 Thus, for example, Sinclair largely explains the bold budgetary policy agenda outlined by newly elected House Democratic leader Jim Wright (D.TX) in late 1986 by ‘[s]pecial political conditions’ and ‘[t]he members expectations to which Speaker Wright responded.’ 14 Nevertheless, a number of studies of congressional leadership have employed interactionist approaches, which allow the individual actions and different leadership styles of leaders much greater scope to interact with their strategic environments and, therefore, to influence the course of events. Kiewiet and McCubbins, for example, utilise a principal-agent theory that allows for agency losses, including those derived from the strategic and informational advantages that congressional leaders enjoy: leaders thus use their agenda powers to manipulate decisionmaking processes and, therefore, decisions.15 Various historical studies by Strahan and others also demonstrate how certain congressional leaders have effectively pursued goals – exerted successful legislative leadership - 'beyond merely continuing to occupy the Speaker's chair, and in pursuit of those goals, acted independently of followers' expectations with important consequences [my emphasis]'.16 Similarly, Peters has argued that 'within the "contexts" [that drive the leader's "style"] … individual actors and events that are not historically or contextually determined will influence the House'; 17 and Palazzolo has concluded from his study of leadership involvement in budgetary politics that '[l]eader preferences are important in defining leader-follower relations . . . Leaders decide, within a given set of constraints, how to perform their roles. Thus
12 13

Cooper and Brady, ‘Institutional Context and Leadership Style': 420.

See Rohde and Shepsle, 'Leaders and Followers in the House of Representatives', 122-23; Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House, 172; and Sinclair, 'Transformational Leader Or Faithful Agent?' 447.

Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking: 272. See also Barbara Sinclair, 'Leading the Revolution: Innovation and Continuity in Congressional Party Leadership' in Dean McSweeney and John E. Owens, eds., The Republican Takeover of Congress. Basingstoke and New York: Macmillan/St Martins Press: 78
15 16

Kiewiet and McCubbins, The Logic of Delegation: 27.

Randall W. Strahan, 'Leadership and Institutional Change in the Nineteenth Century House’ in Brady and McCubbins, eds., Party, Process, and Political Change in Congress: 243. See also Randall W. Strahan, Vincent G. Moscardelli, Moshe Haspel, and Richard S. Wike, 'The Clay Speakership Revisited.' Polity 32/3, 2000: 561–593; John H. Aldrich and Kenneth A. Shepsle, 'Explaining Institutional Change: Soaking, Poking, and Modeling in the US Congress.' in William A. Bianco, ed., Congress On Display, Congress At Work. Ann Arbor and London: University of Michigan Press, 2000: 34-35, 39; Randall W. Strahan, 'Reed and Rostenkowski: Congressional Leadership in Institutional Time' in Allen Hertzke and Ronald M. Peters, eds., The Atomistic Congress. An Interpretation of Congressional Change. Armonk, NY and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1992: 209 and 208–217; Elaine K. Swift, 'The Start of Something New: Clay, Stevenson, Polk, and the Development of the Speakership, 1789–1869' in Roger H. Davidson, Susan Webb Hammond, and Raymond W. Smock, eds., Masters of the House. Congressional Leadership Over Two Centuries. Boulder, CO and Oxford: Westview Press, 1998: 9–32.

Ronald M. Peters, The American Speakership: The Office in Historical Perspective. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990: 4.


[Speaker Jim] Wright could pursue an activist style while [his predecessor Tip] O’Neill did not, though both Speakers operated under similar conditions [my emphasis].' Palazzolo also finds that another personal trait - Wright’s expertise in budget policy - enabled him to 'adapt more easily to a condition that encourage[d] a policy-oriented leadership'.18 Finally, Irwin’s study strongly emphasises the importance of the personal characteristics of ‘wilful agents’, as well as ‘circumstances’: ‘Key individuals, each treated as a unit of analysis with corresponding personal motives and agendas, explain an unexpectedly crucial portion of each legislative outcome that is missed by the lenses of aggregated interests, parties, and other macro explanations … Persistence, patience, hustle, and a willingness to compromise are the common characteristics of the wilful agents who realise legislative success.’ Further, ‘issue coalitions that eventually realised policy success were constructed [by wilful agents] through a combination of … five methods of persuasion’ that ‘include threats, bribes, personal appeals, public policy logic, and public service appeals.’ 19 Implicit in these studies is the important notion that leadership represents something more than the somewhat passive, reactive, activity portrayed by contextualists. All contemporary congressional leaders require a repertoire of skills, which must be deployed in different situations. Concomitantly, all contemporary leaders display somewhat different leadership styles. By leadership skills, I mean the necessarily subjective perceptions and actions that individual leaders – typically assisted by other members of their leadership teams - apply to inherently slippery strategic contexts (comprising opportunities, constraints, and information) as part of the processes of defining policy issues in the public arena, shaping legislative agendas, structuring congressional decisions, persuading colleagues, and generally constructing legislative and political strategies designed to construct winning coalitions and enact the party’s collective policy goals.20 Leaders’ skills are necessarily individual because politicians are ‘goal seeking [as well as] … situation-interpreting individuals’.21 Different leaders have different individual strengths and weaknesses. Some skills are the negation of others; and sometimes the same skills may produce different results. The skills that congressional leaders seek to exercise include discernment of favourable and unfavourable situations/opportunities for exercising leadership; articulation and setting of clear legislative priorities; persuasive, mobilizing and conciliatory skills employed with respect to the leader’s chamber party and the attentive public; judicious timing of policy initiatives and actions; policy and political expertise; parliamentary skills; persuasive, bargaining and conciliatory skills employed with respect to the president and the chamber minority; and overall
18 19

Daniel J. Palazzolo, The Speaker and the Budget. Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992: 216–218.

Lewis G. Irwin, A Chill in the House. Actor Perspectives on Change and Continuity in the Pursuit of Legislative Success. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2002: 7, 111, 161.
20 21

Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking.

Richard F. Fenno, ‘Observation, Context, and Sequence in the Study of Politics,’ American Political Science Review 80 (March 1986): 3-15.


understanding and evaluation of the strategic context faced by the leader and his/her chamber party. Within the formal theoretical political science literature, political skills and leadership are prominent in Riker's work on heresthetics - the art of 'structuring the world so that you can win':22 effective leaders, he argues, are those able to manipulate followers with fixed preferences by persuading a significant number of them that a new issue division or coalition better serves their preferences. 'Most of the great shifts in political life result from introducing a new dimension,'23 argues Riker. For Riker, and others, then, leadership assumes an active voice directed towards the achievement of political purposes or goals, and a less contextually determined political environment. It is a concept of leadership that is highly relevant to the Congress. Political manoeuvring, as Riker describes, becomes an important skill variable for leaders when they make choices in the service of their political purposes or goals (strategies) - skills in context. Political leaders' skills are, of course, necessarily individual because politicians are 'goal seeking [as well as] … situation-interpreting individuals'.24 Not only do different leaders have individual strengths and weaknesses but, most importantly, their interpretations of contexts (comprising opportunities, constraints, and information) are necessarily subjective – because, as Tucker has argued, situations are 'a set of circumstances that someone endows with meaning because of the way in which they relate to that person's purposes and concerns.' It follows, then, that leadership is most likely to emerge in situations that are unstable, changing, and ill defined.25 Leadership style covers a gamut of personal traits and skills that characterise how a leader seeks to exercise leadership. Burns distinguishes between ‘transactional’ and ‘transforming’ leaders. Most congressional leaders adopt a transactional style, which involves, essentially, ‘initiating, monitoring, and assured completing of transactions, for settling disputes, and for storing up political credits and debits for later settlement.’ They are less interested in pursuing policy goals that they can call their own; they follow rather than lead on policy matters.26 These transactional leaders are contrasted with other leaders who want to be transforming and often possess the necessary skills to achieve their goals. The transforming leader, Burns argues, ‘recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower. But beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower’ .27 Studies by Swift, Peters and
22 23 24

William H. Riker, The Art of Political Manipulation, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1986: ix. Riker, The Art of Political Manipulation: 151.

Richard F. Fenno, 'Observation, Context, and Sequence in the Study of Politics', American Political Science Review, 80/1, 1986: 3-15.
25 26

Robert C. Tucker, Politics As Leadership. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. 1981: 16.

James MacGregor Burns, Leadership. New York: Harper and Row, 1978: 344-45, 363. See also Erwin C. Hargrove, ‘Two Conceptions of Institutional Leadership’ in Bryan D. Jones, ed., Leadership and Politics. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas: 57.

Burns, Leadership: 4.


Strahan, Moscardelli, Haspel and Wike see three nineteenth century speakers - Clay, Stevenson and Polk – as transformative leaders and in so doing identify several personal characteristics of leaders and leadership skills that are important to this style. Work on recent speakers O’Neill, Wright, Foley, and Gingrich similarly point to important differences in style and skills, albeit often within a contextual theoretical framework. 28 Although in other ways offering different theoretical perspectives, this and other work typically seeks to array House speakers along strong-weak or centralized-decentralised continua.

Taken together, these studies demonstrate that although purposive interpretations that emphasise context can explain significant parts of these leaders' activities they are not complete because they do not take sufficient account of what Aldrich and Shepsle call the 'exogenous interventions of imaginative individuals'.30 We can take the study of congressional leadership - and particularly leadership styles - further, however, by taking some leaves out of the social psychology and business management literature. In that literature, we see a somewhat richer perspective on leadership styles and skills within an interactive theoretical framework. First, the consensus within the social psychology and business management literature confirms that the ways in which leaders exercise leadership vary across different situations. In particular, Fielder’s work and that of other social psychologists distinguishes between 'task-oriented' and 'socio-emotive' or 'relationship-oriented' leadership, the effectiveness of which varied according to the situation; the former being most effective in situations that are either highly favourable or highly unfavourable.31 Second, it follows, therefore, that leadership behaviour and leadership styles cannot readily be arrayed along single continua; for example, autocratic through democratic, strong through weak, or a

Elaine K. Swift, ‘The Start of Something New: Clay, Stevenson, Polk, and the Development of the Speakership, 1789-1869’ in Roger H. Davidson, Susan Webb Hammond, and Raymond W. Smock, eds., Masters of the House. Congressional Leadership Over Two Centuries. Boulder, CO and Oxford: Westview Press, 1998: 9-32; Peters, The American Speakership; Strahan, Moscardelli, Haspel, and Wike, ‘The Clay Speakership Revisited’; Palazzolo, The Speaker and the Budget: 216-8; John M. Barry, The Ambition and the Power, New York: Viking, 1989: 123, 143-56, 169-74; Barbara Sinclair, ‘The Emergence of Strong Leadership in the 1980s House of Representatives’, Journal of Politics, 54/3, 1992: 657-684.

Notably, Cooper and Brady, ‘Institutional Context and Leadership Style’; Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House; and Sinclair, ‘The Emergence of Strong Leadership’; Steven S. Smith and Gerald Gamm, ‘The Dynamics of Party Government in Congress’ in Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered. 7th edition. Washington, DC.: CQ Press, 2001: 260; Randall Strahan and Daniel J. Palazzolo, ‘The Gingrich Effect’, Political Science Quarterly, 119/1, 2004: 93, 99.
30 31

Aldrich and Shepsle. 'Explaining Institutional Change': 41.

Fiedler defined task-oriented leadership as focused on generating results or getting things done (i.e. impersonal outcomes or goals) rather than caring how the team achieves outcomes or how they feel about it before, during, or after completing the task. In contrast, a relationship-oriented leader focuses more on maintaining morale or enhancing the process (personal relationships or processes) than on outcomes. The implication is that if followers are happy, doing work they enjoy getting along with each other, and so on, much better results will ensue. See Fiedler, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness and Rupert J. Brown, 'Intergroup Relations' in Miles Hewstone, Wolfgang Stroebe, Jean-Paul Codol, and Geoffrey M. Stephenson, eds., Social Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.


centralized through decentralized for all situations, which is the conventional language in which students of congressional leadership discuss the phenomenon. Third, research from social psychology and business management has shown how different leaders use different sets of skills from their behavioural repertories to select certain situations, to evoke and draw out certain responses from others, and to restructure or manipulate situations to enhance their effectiveness.

Building on Fiedler’s contingency theory, Hersey and Blanchard advanced a situational theory from which they identified four leadership styles, which vary according to the amount of directive (one-way communication in which the leader dictates the role of the follower) and supportive behaviour (twoway communication that encourages interaction by the follower in the decision making process). The type of style depends on the amount of direction the leader provides, the amount of support and encouragement he/she provides, and the amount of follower involvement in decisionmaking. How much a leader relies on direction and/or support in a given situation depends on his/her diagnostic judgement of the developmental level of his/her followers,33 which assumes that leaders are rational, want to diagnose the readiness of followers, and change their behaviour accordingly. It will be instructive later in the discussion to recall this point in relation to Hastert’s perception of the situation he faced at the beginning of his Speakership and after the 2002 elections. As we will see, that perception resonates well with Fenno’s observation in 1996 that House Republicans were still learning to govern.34 In brief, then, this literature shows that 1) leaders must understand the extent to which their followers are willing to do what they would like them to do; 2) there can be no ‘best’ leadership style for all situations; rather, 3) the most effective leaders are those who match their style with the current situation and create a culture or climate of relations that allows their followers to enhance their willingness and ability to work with the leader to achieve shared goals. Work by Goleman has taken leadership theory further by focusing particularly on emotional intelligence, and specifically on the emotional intelligence of leaders. In collaboration with the management consulting firm of Hay/McBer, Goleman and his associates found that 90 per cent of the differences between the ‘average’ and ‘most effective’ business leaders were explained by leaders’ grasp of particular emotional competencies (which were found to be twice as significant as intellectual capacity and technical expertise together). Relevant emotional competencies included leaders’ self

See, for example, David M. Buss, 'Selection, evocation, and manipulation', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53/4, 1987: 1214-1221.

The styles are: delegating to subordinates, participating with subordinates, selling ideas to subordinates, selling subordinates what to do. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1982.

Richard F. Fenno, Learning to Govern. An Institutional View of the 104th Congress. Washington, DC.: Brookings Institution Press 1997.


awareness of how their emotions impacted their actions, their emotional self management or self control, their social awareness or capacity for empathy, and their social skills or management of social relations. In brief, possession of these competencies or emotional intelligence affected the extent to which they could figure out what style of leadership was most appropriate in particular situations. 35 Table 1.Goleman’s Six Leadership Styles
Coercive Style features Do as I say; bark orders military style Visionary Classic model: articulates a vision; gives clear direction to followers Affiliative Creates harmony; connects individuals to one another; people- more than focus on tasks and goals empathy, building relationships, communication To motivate people in stress or to heal team conflicts Democratic Consensus building; listens to others; takes others’ views into account in making decisions collaboration, team leadership, communication To build consensus or get employee input Pacesetting Usually an outstanding technical specialist; highly individualistic; leads by example; requires very high standards Conscientiousness, drive to achieve, initiative To get quick results from a motivated and competent team Coaching Least used. Coaching individuals outside collective setting

Emotional intelligence

achieve, initiative, self-control Crisis or to start a turnaround

self-confidence, empathy, change catalyst When change requires new vision or to provide clear direction Most strongly positive

developing others, empathy, selfawareness To help improve performance or develop strengths in colleagues Positive

Appropriate situations

Likely impact on working relations with followers Source:





Goleman, ‘Leadership That Gets Results’: 78-90.

Goleman identified six distinct leadership styles each of which derives from different aspects of emotional intelligence (Table 1). As the table shows, four of these styles – the ‘resonant styles’ have a positive impact on working relations with followers. These are the visionary (or authoritative), affiliative, democratic and coaching styles. Conversely, coercive (or command and control) and pacesetting styles (similar to Fiedler’s task-oriented leadership) tend to produce dissonance. The most effective leaders are those who exhibit at least four of these styles. However, different leaders will display different combination of styles; and, moreover, others may follow one or more of these styles on behalf of the nominal leader.


Daniel Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’, Leader to Leader, 25, 2002: 24-30 and Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002; Daniel Goleman, ‘Leadership That Gets Results’, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.


This paper focuses specifically on the leadership skills, style and effectiveness of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.IL). It draws on the literature from social psychology, business management, and political science in order to provide an understanding of Hastert’s leadership of the contemporary House that goes beyond the contextual models – which assume that leadership activity is almost wholly dependent on the preferences of the majority party conferences/caucus. The paper seeks to explore and explain how Hastert, as a leader with certain personal characteristics, political skills, and a particular leadership style, interacts with/leads his conference, and with what effects. The theoretical thrust of the paper is that House leadership is largely a function of the interaction between context and person characteristics, including leadership skills and style. That is, that contemporary congressional leaders exhibiting peculiar personal characteristics and leadership styles perceive, interact with, weigh, and respond to the preferences and other features of multiple salient contexts, including the attentive public and the broader the electoral context on the particular issue, the current reputation of the leader’s party, the leader's current reputation within the chamber and outside, the size of the chamber majority, the chamber's institutional context and prevailing legislative organisation, the president, the president's public reputation and political skills exhibited on the particular issue, the other party and the other chamber within a bicameral system and the political skills they exhibit on the particular issue, and, as well as the behaviour of copartisans within their chamber party. The paper will subsequently form part of a larger study that will seek to explain contemporary House leadership and leadership effectiveness as a function of the combination of the features of different situations in different political and legislative contexts, and particular leaders’ leadership styles, political skills and other personal characteristics. That study will examine specific case studies of legislation considered by the House during Hastert’s speakership in order to analyse in depth the interaction between the Speaker’s style and skills and different legislative situations. The present paper will confine itself to identifying the key aspects of Hastert’s leadership skills and leadership style. The implied theoretical implication is that a leader’s leadership style is a critical determinant of leader’s effectiveness and the majority party’s legislative success. Data Researching the effects of leadership skills and style on congressional leadership does not allow either for the collection or creation of large amounts of hard, measurable, data that accurately conveys the deep, complex, multi-faceted human activity that constitutes leadership,36 nor does it allow for quantitative data analysis. This study relies, therefore, on participant data derived from interviews supplemented by information derived from newspapers and magazines. First, CQ Weekly, CQ Today,

See, for example, Gary King, Robert Keohane, Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.


The Hill, the New York Times, the New York Times, Roll Call, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, and other accounts were comprehensively trawled for information on Hastert’s (and other majority leaders’) House leadership activities. Armed with these stories, semi-structured interviews were then conducted with congressional staffers and congressional journalists who had close first-hand knowledge and had witnessed Speaker Hastert’s leadership activity.37 The detailed data yielded from these interviews provided rich, thick, descriptive and analytical detail that forms the basis of the subsequent analyses. As indicated already, neither the analysis nor the subsequent discussion in this paper dwells very much on the contexts in which Hastert sought to exercise leadership of the House. Suffice to reiterate at this point that it is an important feature of the interactionist model that significant elements of these contexts varied over time and across different piece of legislation. Notwithstanding some fairly constant generalities – most importantly, narrow Republican majorities (the narrowest produced by four consecutive elections in US history), tight Republican party cohesion, strong partisan polarisation in the House, and powerful institutional tools at his disposal - the specific legislative contexts that Hastert has faced since becoming in 1999 have varied considerably. Hastert’s Leadership Style It is almost commonplace for Hastert’s leadership style to be contrasted with his predecessor.38 Speaker Denny Hastert is clearly no Newt Gingrich. When Hastert ‘emerged’ as the new Republican House leader in 1999, he was viewed by House Republicans not only as a team player but also as a congenial and effective deal maker (previously chosen by Gingrich as his Deputy Chief Whip) who would bring much-needed tactical and conciliatory skills to the leadership of his party. One former leadership staffer who worked for both speakers identified clear distinctions between the styles of his two bosses: “Newt's strength was that he was very charismatic and his strength was his ability to identify a goal, get people all whipped up and excited about working towards the goal. … Hastert, by contrast, is much more … much more plugged in and aware of what is happening on the House floor, much more involved in the day to day mechanics of the House, which is a lot like if you

A total of 20 interviews were conducted in November 2002, May and November 2003, and June and November 2004. All were face-to-face, almost all were recorded, and all respondents were promised anonymity unless they agreed to my using specific quotes.

Ronald M. Peters, ‘The Republican Speakership’. Paper presented to the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA, September 1996; Ronald M. Peters, ‘Institutional Context and Leadership Style: The Case of Newt Gingrich’ in Nicol Rae and Colton Campbell, eds., New Majority or Old Minority. The Impact of Republicans on Congress. Lanham, MD and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield: 43-69; Randall W. Strahan, ‘Leadership in Institutional and Political Time: The Case of Newt Gingrich and the 104th Congress’. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, September 1996; Sinclair, 'Leading the Revolution’; Smith and Gamm, ‘The Dynamics of Party Government in Congress’: 260.


study the Speaker in his historical role. That is much more the conventional style of the Speakership.” The same respondent also noted the fit between the styles of Gingrich and Hastert and the contexts that House Republicans faced at the time of their elections: “It seems to me both were particularly well suited for the time… It's remarkable how badly the institution needed somebody like Denny Hastert at that particular time - somebody who could unite the different factions as House Republicans, somebody who didn't seem threatening to some of the committee chairmen, who, by that point, had been chairmen for three or four years and were really kind of looking for an opportunity to flex their muscles”.39 This observation comports well with a phenomenon well known in the sociometric psychology literature; that is, that nominators make their selection of leaders depending upon their understanding of what the situation demands.

Put differently, after Gingrich, House Republicans settled on Hastert

in the belief that what they needed most was a leader whose judgement they could trust, who was attentive to members’ needs, good at keeping the party together, and skilled at putting together coalitions to pass conservative legislation. In Goleman’s terms, they identified Hastert as a leader with ‘consensual emotions’ - a ‘resonant’ leader who would not only make clear what he/she wants but pay attention to the emotional reality of his ‘team’ and take care of it by establishing a set of ground rules or positive norms for the way the team would work together as a whole, not only by example through his/her own behaviour but in the ways he/she interacts with other team members.41 What then are the main elements of Hastert’s leadership style, and with what effects? Visionary Leadership Almost emblematic of Gingrich’s leadership style was his penchant for the grand policy vision. Gingrich was and is frequently described as a visionary leader.42 Visionary leadership is the classic model

39 40

Interview with former House leadership staffer, 31 October 2002.

For example, Kelly observes: ‘If ingenuity and originality appears to him [sic] to be required, a nominator may choose one person. If defence of the group against an outside threat or a superordinate authority is believed to be needed, quite another kind of person may be chosen. If devotion to duty and housekeeping activities are required, still another may be selected.’ George A. Kelly, The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Vol. 1. A Theory of Personality. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1955: 100.

‘Resonant’ leaders are those that ‘tune into [their] own values, priorities, sense of meaning, and goals – and … lead authentically from those – and do it in a way that tunes into other people’s sense of values, priority, meaning and goals. When [they] tune into others, that helps them tune into [the leader]. In other words, [they] create a climate where [they] can articulate a shared mission that moves people.’ Resonant leaders contrast sharply with ‘dissonant’ leaders who don’t care how members of their team feel. They just want to get the job done no matter what.’ Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’.

Lois Romano, ‘Newt Gingrich, Maverick on the Hill: The New Right’s Abrasive Point Man Talks of Changing His Tone and Tactics’


and involves articulating a shared vision, giving clear direction, and helping individuals move toward a shared hope or dream.43 Almost all commentary on Hastert dismisses any notion of him as a visionary leader; and Hastert himself does not claim or aspire to be one. A leadership staffer who has worked for Hastert and Gingrich drew a widely acknowledged contrast: “Newt wanted to change the direction of the planet: ‘We're going to make it spin in the opposite direction.’ Or something like that. Denny’s not interested in that. He is more interested in making sure the planet continues spinning. I mean, Hastert has a lot of things that he feels strongly about, but I wouldn't put that at the top of his list.” 44 It is not that Hastert does not have significant policy ambitions or that he is not decisive or that he is exclusively a tactical rather than a strategic leader. He does have policy ambitions for his party and he is a strategist. However, his policy ambitions and agendas tend to be smaller, more of the incremental kind, more easily digested by his party, more modest in their scale, and he is also a tactician. Rather than advancing a grand vision, ‘Denny has a very simple agenda and he keeps to it. He’s very good at laying out a very simple 4-point plan of what we’re going to be doing - and sticking to it. So, at the beginning of the year, we said we’re going to do something on jobs, prescription drugs… We’re going to do an energy package, and finish the rest of our work - and that’s all he laid out. Four priorities. And he’s done that in the every year that he’s been Speaker… His strategic vision is pretty simple: it’s not the Congress’ role to remake society. It’s Congress’ role to do what people send us here to do, which is to get the job done. He’s a conservative pragmatist. I think he wants us to govern the best way we can with all we’ve got. But he’s not someone who’s trying to change the world. He’s happy to live in the world we live in. A good example of that is Social Security. He’s not interested in privatising Social Security, which is what the Bush Administration want. They need to find a mandate to do that and really fight it out before we take it up. We sure would not like to do that in an election year.’45 A leadership staff director emphasised the different time horizons of the policy ambitions of Gingrich and Hastert: “Newt was always thinking 20 years from now: ‘Here is what we are going to do 20 years from now. Denny is good at saying, ‘Okay, it's all about two year cycle and in two years, here is what we need to do, but to get there, here is what we need to do two days from now, two hours from now, and two weeks from now, which is very important, because, you know, you have to do

43 44 45

Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’: 24-30 and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership Interview with former House leadership staffer, 31 October 2002. Interview with House leadership staffer 31 October 2003.


these things one step at a time. ”46 While Hastert does not have a grand vision there seems no question that he thinks and acts strategically - in the sense that he is able to identify large legislative priorities popular with House Republicans quickly and pursue them systematically and with skill and vigour. A leadership staff director reinforced this point: “No one who knows Denny Hastert can accuse him of not being strategic. It's just not possible. What I would say is he's a strategic leader that's very good at tactics. He knows what the big picture is, but he also knows all the little steps that are so freaking hard that you have to do every hour of the day to get to the big picture. You would make a mistake if you just said Denny Hastert is a tactician. That is incorrect. A perfect example was that crazy day that he became Speaker; the day before knowing this was going to happen. Denny sat down and he figured out, okay, "What have I got to do between now and January and there's a million things that could consume me. But what do I have to do and do well," and then he started working from there.”47 Unlike Gingrich, in pursuing his goals, Hastert does not crave the limelight and does not have an ambition for higher political office.48 His favoured political terrain is the House floor, not the airwaves or the lectern. He is far from being an inspirational public speaker, which is strange given the contemporary attention to the ‘public Speakership’,49 and somewhat disappointing to significant parts of the Republican coalition. Even his closest advisors call his public style “boring”. If anything, this ‘missing’ feature in Hastert’s public style is compensated by his leadership partnership with now Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.TX). Evidently, social psychologists have found this compensatory strategy common in their research on leaders.50 Time and space prevent a full exploration of the crucial leadership partnership between Hastert and DeLay in the contemporary House. Suffice to say here, that though the balance of power between these two is often hard to judge, in the context of visionary leadership it is apparent that to a great extent DeLay provides the policy vision that was formerly provided by Gingrich, except that DeLay’s contribution to the House Republicans’ is probably much more disciplined and more focused than was Gingrich’s, and much more incremental, which of course is very much in keeping with Hastert’s
46 47 48

Interview with leadership staff director, 4 November 2003. Interview with leadership staff director, 4 November 2003.

Remarks by Speaker Dennis Hastert, ‘Reflections on the Role of the Speaker in the Modern Day House of Representatives’, Conference on The Changing Nature of the House Speakership: The Cannon Century Conference, Cannon Caucus Room, Library of Congress, 12 November 2003. See also Jim Vande Hei, ‘Hastert Takes Gavel, Promises Cooperation’, Roll Call, 7 January 1999: 22.

Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking: 260-269; Douglas B. Harris, ‘The Rise of the Public Speakership’, Political Science Quarterly, 113/ 2, 1998: 193-212

Goleman notes that leaders who discover that they only possess a few leadership styles can either expand their own styles or they ‘can associate themselves with other peers that possess the style that they lack.’ Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’.


personality. Pacesetting Leadership Hastert is not only not a visionary, he is also not a pacesetter – in the sense that he does not pursue a highly individualistic style that is characterised by leadership by example, requires very high standards from colleagues, and being ‘a superb, outstanding, star’ who typically becomes impatient with his followers. 51 Hastert’s leadership style is almost the exact opposite of a pacesetter. Although he is certainly a leader who is willing to take significant strategic initiatives, his style is more that of the tortoise than the hare. He is known as a leader who is patient and conciliatory to those within his own party and leadership; but nevertheless someone who will put pressures on Republican members and chairs in order to work out legislation and reach a deal, which he perceives benefits his party. A congressional journalist noted: “He’ll keep meeting with them and keep putting them in the same room together’, until a deal is worked out.52 A former leadership staff director noted: “Denny understands, I think, better than Newt did that the House doesn't turn on a dime and you can't just make a decision and, voila, it's gone. You have to bring people along and sometimes it takes a little while.’53 A committee staff director noted: “Denny is more into the practical … [His] style is performance based: ‘Let's get as much done as possible. Let's do our agenda, but also let's not divide our caucus at the same time. Let's do it on those issues where we are all in agreement.” The staff director then went on to explain his approach to leadership as stemming from his legislative background: “Denny is more seasoned - state level and here. He applied himself more to the legislative process rather than the political process. … Newt didn't have quite the legislative experience. The legislative experience is the give and take: how do you buy them into your argument? How do you make them feel good even though we lost? How do you convince them you're right and they're wrong? All those things are part of the legislative process and, obviously, more part of Denny's makeup than Newt's makeup. Not that [Newt] couldn't do it. He just couldn't do it consistently.”54 Neither a visionary nor a pacesetter, the component elements of Speaker Hastert’s leadership style

Goleman observes: ‘A pacesetter shows up most often in technical fields. The pacesetter is typically someone who, as an individual contributor, was superb, outstanding, a star, which led to the promotion to team leader… The pacesetter leads by example (Do it like I do!) and becomes very impatient when people can't meet that standard, which is very high because they are very good. They don't give positive feedback, only negative feedback. So they make people feel bad.’ Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’.
52 53 54

Interview with leadership staffer B, 31 October 2003. Interview with former leadership staff director, 4 November 2003. Interview with committee staff director, 6 November 2003.


owe much more to Goleman’s ‘resonant’ leadership styles: the democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles, coupled sometimes interspersed with a coercive style. Democratic Leadership House leaders are elected by their copartisans and must, of course, retain their political support. This is the crux of contextualist interpretations of congressional leadership. Adhering closely to the preferences of party median does not imply leaders as passive agents, does not tell us much about a leader’s leadership style, and does not tell us how he/she relates to his/her conference or how the conference relates to him/her. It also does not mean that all House leaders pursue ‘democratic’ or inclusive leadership styles. Democratic leadership is not just ‘going with the flow’. Rather, as Goleman notes: ‘the democratic leader is a consensus builder, the person who really listens to other people, who takes their opinions into account in making a decision. This style isn't appropriate for a crisis situation, or when expert knowledge is required. But in situations where the path ahead is unclear, a leader can say in all honesty, "You know, you folks know more about this than I do. What do you think I should do?" The ability to listen gets people on board and makes people feel that they matter.’55 Hastert himself is very clear about the importance of listening: ‘To be good at the job of Speaker, you must be willing to … listen to the members of the House …because to get and win votes, you need to hear what the members are saying. [As Speaker]. I learned that the best way to find solutions was to get people around the table to talk it through. When you have a small majority, like I have had for pretty much my entire tenure, you have to do a lot of listening.” 56 In keeping with democratic style, it appears from the interviews, that Hastert engages in highly intense efforts to find out what his party colleagues want out of Congress – which committee assignments members want, what issues they want to pursue, which district projects they are working on back home, and on particular votes, which members can support the party line, and which cannot. One of Hastert’s most senior staffers drew a fairly categorical contrast between his boss and Gingrich: “We make decisions collectively, unlike when Gingrich was Speaker.”57 Another senior staffer for Hastert elaborated: “He doesn’t get ahead of the members. He doesn’t stake out positions - unlike Newt Gingrich. People don’t look to him and he doesn’t say: ‘Oh, by the way, this is what we’re doing and I
55 56 57

Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’: Hastert, ‘Reflections on the Role of the Speaker’. Interview with leadership staffer B, 31 October 2003.


don’t care if you’ve never heard of this before. This is where we are going. What he will also do is that at the beginning of the year he will convene a Conference with all the members – it’s a retreat (The Republican Congressional Institute puts it on.) – and that’s where they make the big decisions as to what the members want … These major decisions are made in conjunction with all the members and Hastert listens very carefully to see what the members really want.”58 One of Hastert’s closest staffers gave this example of consensus building from the early days of his boss’ speakership in order to illustrate his style: ‘Any [Republican] member can talk to him. He listens. “I hear people”, he says. In contrast to Gingrich, Denny leads by developing a consensus – whereas Gingrich would stake a position and expect everyone to follow – and was surprised when they didn’t. Take for example, the 1999 supplemental providing funds for the military in Kosovo and so forth. The House bill left $195 million in spending without offsets. A number of members Tiahrt, Shays, and Graham - wanted offsets. Tiahrt didn’t want them taken from other military spending. Shays didn’t want them coming from non-defense spending. Hastert talked to Chairman Young and did what they wanted – with the result they all voted for the bill. And that was important because we had only a 5-seat majority. I remember at the time a Gingrich staffer saying to me: “If Gingrich had still been speaker, he would have been ranting and raging. He’d have promised five different deals to five different members – and have ended up not following through.” Hastert is good to his word – and members respect that and are willing to vote with him.’59 An important element of Hastert’s democratic style is his often-proclaimed respect for ‘the regular order’. By this, he means (with certain exceptions) allowing the legislative process to work its way through the committees.60 On first becoming Speaker, he quickly ratified the de facto committeeleadership status quo, in which committee leaders had regained some of the power and authority they had lost under Gingrich: 61 substantial legislative authority would return to committees and their chairs, while Hastert would take responsibility for the day-to-day running of the chamber and negotiations among committee and other leaders.62 As one senior leadership staffer explained: “Gingrich loved the big drama and brinkmanship. He liked the limelight. Hastert’s not like that: he works with the Conference. He sets broad parameters and lets the committee chairmen knows his priorities and talks with the chairmen regularly.”63

Interview with House leadership staffer 31 October 2003. On the importance of listening in Hastert’s style, see also Jonathan Franzen, ‘The Listener’, The New Yorker, 6 October 2003: 85-99.
59 60 61

Interview with House leadership staffer, 31 October 2003. Hastert, ‘Reflections on the Role of the Speaker’.

On this, see John E. Owens, 'The Return of Party Government in the US House of Representatives: Central Leadership Committee Relations in the 104th Congress.' British Journal of Political Science, 27/2. (1997): 249–253 and Steven S. Smith and Eric D. Lawrence, ‘Party Control of Committees’ in Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered. 6th edition. Washington, DC.: CQ Press, 1997: 163-192.
62 63

Jim Vande Hei, ‘Hastert Takes Gavel, Promises Cooperation’, Roll Call, 7 January 1999: 22. Interview with House leadership staffer B, 31 October 2003.


Many critics, however, have observed that Hastert’s regular order is a different regular order from that which preceded Gingrich. We will return to this point later in the discussion.

Affiliation In many ways, the most emblematic feature of Hastert’s leadership style is his successful engendering of a strong team culture within his party. Effective and persistent affiliation with House Republicans is an essential element of Hastert’s style. House Republicans reciprocate with what appears to be almost universal and deeply held affection and appreciation for their leader. A Hill journalist insisted: ‘You've got to see the way that they treat Hastert. They admire DeLay, they respect DeLay, but they love Hastert. They really do love Hastert. I think the only one I can see who you can even compare to it is Daschle in the Senate. … Hastert's campaigned for them all. He's sat there. He's done all the tough votes for them. He's been in their states. He spent time with them. He listens to them.’64 Hastert is a very hands-on leader, a trait that is very much tied up with his affable and self-effacing almost humble – personality. The earlier discussion noted that he did not seek the speakership and has eschewed ambition for any higher office. Those who know him well note how comfortable he is with himself, including his limitations.65 One of Hastert’s closest staffers observed: ‘A lot of people have said this. He’s got a quiet confidence, which for someone who’s a bigger man. You know, the kind of lumbering guy … He’s very comfortable in his own skin. I think he’s got a sense of great humility but he also has a sense of great confidence in himself and I think that’s what members like. The thing about it is that he didn’t really seek the job to be Speaker.’ 66 Social psychologists would say that Hastert displays strong emotional intelligence, a characteristic that is widely recognised by party colleagues and one that facilitates a strong affiliative leadership style that is conducive to building strong group relationships and good intra-group communications. The key aspects of an affiliative leadership style are that it: ‘creates harmony in the group by getting people to connect with each other. Affiliative leaders create settings in which people can spend time together, get to know each other, and then bond together. They focus on people and their feelings more than on tasks and goals and use praise lavishly. The affiliative style builds emotional capital among the team, so that the group can
64 65

Interview with congressional journalist, 30 October 2004.

See, for example, the comment of Congressman John Boehner (R.OH) in Richard E. Cohen, ‘Hastert’s Hidden Hand’, National Journal, 20 January 2001: 176.

Interview with House leadership staffer 31 October 2003. This staffer went on to observe: “Gingrich distrusted the regular order and ultimately wanted to destroy the regular order. [JO: Does that means that he really distrusted his colleagues?] Well, that was the whole point of Newt. He distrusted anyone who bought into the House as currently constructed; and frankly Hastert and Bob Michel (R.IL) and other people from that wing of the party liked the House. If they didn’t like being in the minority they still liked the House as an institution whereas Gingrich disliked the House and wanted to tear it down to save it. … So, you’re right.”


work together more harmoniously, even under pressure, and team members are also more likely to be there for you as a leader when you really need them.’ 67 His strong emotion intelligence means that he is able to motivate his Republican colleagues. He knows himself and trusts his colleagues. An important reason why House Republicans chose him as Gingrich’s successor in 1998 was because he was widely trusted and well liked (including by some Democrats). Respondents who know him well regularly refer to his ‘integrity’ and ‘that he is true to his commitments when he makes them’. One of his close staffers noted, “Hastert has more confidence in his colleagues than Gingrich ever did.”68 His personality allows him to accept his partisan colleagues for what they are and what they want. A congressional journalist who sees the speaker almost every day observed: “He appears to have a pretty wide range of tools for motivating large groups of people. And I think that that’s a trait that’s very specific to him – in terms at looking at others. The tools that he uses to motivate people are those of a coach who has seen the way to motivate someone is to create a common goal, a sense of unity, of mutual self interest and those kinds of things - and he does that quite effectively.”69 Coaching The democratic and affiliative elements are combined in Hastert’s leadership with a widely acknowledged coaching style that involves talking to individual House Republicans outside collective settings. Although the coaching style is often not perceived as leadership because it does not seem sufficiently proactive and dynamic when practised, psychologists and other students of leadership recognize good coaching as an important element in effective leadership. Coaching involves a leader being able to connect the wants and needs of the individual team member to the organisations’ goals, ‘talking to someone off line, outside the team setting. You have a one-on-one conversation, not about your shared task, not about the job but about the person. Who are you? I'd like to get to know you; I'd like to understand you. What do you want in your life? What's your life like? What do you want for your career? What do you want from your job? How can I help you get what you want, go where you want to go? This conversation opens up an ongoing dialogue that lets the leader articulate the task in ways that make sense to that person, in terms of where they want to go, or to find a stretch task for
67 68

Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’: 24-30 and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership.

Interview with House leadership staffer 31 October 2003. This staffer went on to observe: “Gingrich distrusted the regular order and ultimately wanted to destroy the regular order. [JO: Does that means that he really distrusted his colleagues?] Well, that was the whole point of Newt. He distrusted anyone who bought into the House as currently constructed; and frankly Hastert and Bob Michel (R.IL) and other people from that wing of the party liked the House. If they didn’t like being in the minority they still liked the House as an institution whereas Gingrich disliked the House and wanted to tear it down to save it. … So, you’re right.”

Interview with congressional journalist 3 November 2003.


that person, to do them the favor of giving them a challenge that leads them in the direction where they want to be moving anyway. That creates immense loyalty and immense commitment to the leader and the team.’ 70 Numerous respondents referred to Hastert’s background as a former high school wrestling coach and the highly individualistic, personalistic way in which he interacts with other members. A journalist who sees Hastert at work every day provided a graphic account: ‘… I mean, you've got to watch the way Hastert deals with members. It's just phenomenal how he deals with them. Hastert will sit… He's a very poor public speaker. He doesn't like it. It's not his thing. But he'll sit there with these members, and he'll sit in the front row of the well of the House between votes and the Republicans'll come and they'll talk to him about their problems. He's an extremely good listener. He doesn't move. He listens. I mean you can see him - the way he interacts with them. He has their full attention and then he'll do something with his glasses, and he'll just put his hand on them, and he'll say, you know, "I'll take care of it," and, you know … ______ and I have talked about it. It's like they … One of the members of the leadership told me it was like he's met Buddha - because he just has a very good way. He's more of a member's speaker. He's very ‘inside politics’. He's not out front leading …He's not a guy calling press conferences, leading that way. He realizes the New York Times, the Washington Post, _______ isn't going to reelect him. He doesn't give a ____ what the media writes about him. He doesn't care what's on TV. It doesn't matter to him. Members of the Republican Conference reelect him. That's his number one priority - making sure those guys are taken care of – even if it means keeping the press waiting if, for example, a member comes in, to see him.’71 Necessarily, this style involves a considerable investment of time. One of Hastert’s closest staffers elaborated: ‘Throughout the year he will meet with members all day - one on one, five on one, ten on one, whoever want to talk with him … – on the floor, in his office… He spends – I would say - 30 percent of his schedule listening to members. It’s not making big speeches somewhere. It’s not doing TV. It’s listening to members.’72 Coercive Leadership The styles of leadership identified with Hastert might lead us to expect him to reject the command and control/coercive style, which is almost the opposite of the democratic model. The command and control/coercive style consists of issuing orders military style: ‘Do it because I say so and I am the boss.’ Social psychologists argue that the only situation when this style is appropriate is during a real emergency or when there is a crisis or a leader needs to make a new beginning.73 This was a style that appears to fit that used by Gingrich to great effect (but not without significant consequences) during his first few months as Speaker.

70 71 72

Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’: 24-30 and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership. Interview with congressional journalists, 30 October 2003. Interview with House leadership staffer 31 October 2003.


In order for contemporary House speakers to lead effectively they must not acquire reputations for being ‘pushovers’. Indeed, in the early days of his speakership and the aftermath of the final coup against Gingrich, Hastert was sometimes accused of pursuing a minimalist 'do-no-harm strategy' and providing House Republicans with rudderless leadership, notably over Kosovo and some budget reconciliation negotiations with President Clinton.74 As, however, Hastert grew in confidence, he has occasionally resorted to a command and control/coercive style – with the important caveat that he has been fairly certain that his Conference will support him. In June 2003, he held open the vote (held in the early hours of the morning) on final passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit bill for more than 15 minute minimum while he and other rounded up votes

During the Conference report

on the same bill, in November 2003, Hastert excluded the three Democratic conferees by locking the doors; and then presided over the House debate on the conference report, even though he had sponsored the bill himself. Once again, the vote was held open while Republican leaders cajoled conservative dissidents into supporting a 1,100-page bill only one copy of which was available to members. Similarly, Hastert has been willing to wield the stick – or allow DeLay to wield the stick - in regard to committee chairs. So that although the Speakers respects what he calls ‘the regular order’ and allows the committees to develop their own proposals and generally does not become involved deeply at the committee level – in contrast to Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R.TX) during the Contract period in early 1995 - if the chairs stray too far and their product does not reflect the desires of the majority of the Conference Hastert will send it back, require that it be rewritten, and will not schedule it on the floor. So, as one of Hastert’s closest staffers explained: “There’s that tension that the chairmen have a lot of authority to get the work done but they don’t have a blank check.”76 Thus, on several occasions, Hastert has asserted his coercive authority in respect of committee chairs – notably over the Ways and Means Committee’s military benefits bill, which was pulled from the floor in March 2003,

over the intelligence reform-9/11 bill (also pulled from the

floor in December 2004), and his resort to the longstanding practice of bypassing the appropriations committees on end-of-year omnibus reconciliation packages.78 Hastert (and other leaders) also control
73 74

Goleman, ‘Leading Resonant Teams’: 24-30 and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership David S. Broder, 'Look Who’s in the Driver’s Seat', Washington Post, 8 June 1999: A19; Jim Vande Hei, 'Coburn Promises To Stay Vigilant', Roll Call, 10 June 1999: 1 and 26; Carroll J Doherty and Gebe Martinez, ‘GOP’s Great Expectations For ’99 Fade to Modest Hopes’, CQ Weekly, 15 May 1999: 1122-23: 1122-23; Jim Vande Hei, ‘GOP Leaders Face Unhappy, Divided Caucus’, Roll Call, 7 June 1999: 1, 28; Richard E. Cohen, and David Bauman, ‘The Speaker Speaks Up’, National Journal, 12 June 1999: 1592-93; Eric Pianin and Juliet Eilperin, ‘Speaker to Lay Down Law To Fractious House GOP’, Washington Post, 8 June 1999: A1. Interview with leadership staffer, 31 October 2003. Interview with leadership staffer B, 31 October 2003. Juliet Eilperin, ‘Tax Measure for Troops Loaded With Special Interest Perks’, Washington Post, 7 March 2003: A4. Barbara Sinclair, Unorthodox Legislating. See, for example, Andrew Taylor and John Cranford, 'Omnibus Wielding

75 76 77 78


the Steering Committee, which appoints committee chairs. Several centrist Republicans have not been awarded the committee chairs that strict seniority would accord them. A leadership staffer made very clear Hastert’s party government thinking in this respect: “The fact that Jim Leach (R.IA) is not been very loyal to the party interest and was willing to vote against the party on certain things means that he doesn’t get the reward of a chairmanship. Chris Shays (R.CT) [next in seniority for the chair of the Government Reform, who launched a discharge petition to get campaign finance legislation to the House floor] is a very effective subcommittee chair but he was not going to be chairman of the full committee. Tom Davis (R.VA) was.”79 In November 2002, before work on 11 of the FY 2003 appropriations bills had been completed, Hastert also insisted that his Conference change its rules for the 108th House by requiring the Appropriations Committee ‘cardinals’ to re-interview for their posts. The clear purpose was to strengthen party leaders’ influence over the appropriations process. Partisan Leadership Indeed, underpinning Hastert’s peculiar mix of leadership styles - within the highly partisan context that is the contemporary House of Representatives - is his strong adherence to a party government strategy, which he and other leaders justify by their electoral majorities. Particularly after the return of single party government in 2001, and even more so after the 2002 elections, when the House considered legislation that House Republicans regarded as crucial to their party’s national reputation, Hastert has pursued a highly partisan vote calibration strategy. “You see the leadership made an early decision to run the place only with Republicans,” one of Hastert’s most senior staffers explained:

The purpose of House Republicans’ strategy (which is typically endorsed by

the Bush administration) is to push through the House by the very thinnest of voting margins the most conservative measures possible that enjoy the broadest support of the party in the chamber.81 The logic of this strategy is that the House’s position will be strengthened in any negotiations with the Senate, where centrists are likely to exert greater influence. “That’s why it’s a one-vote victory rather than an overwhelming victory”, explained House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.MO). “That’s one of our guiding tenets”, House Republican Conference chair, Congresswoman Deborah Pryce (R.OH) has argued. “Let’s do it our way, if we possibly can.”82 This strategy was seen in graphic form when Hastert
Majority Finds Power in the Package,' CQ Weekly, 20 November 2004: 2724-2745.
79 80 81

Interview with leadership staffer, 31 October 2003. Interview with leadership staffer A, 31 October 2003.

Apart from the Medicare-prescription drugs bill, House Republicans have also followed this strategy on the FY 2004 Congressional Budget Resolution in March 2003, and Headstart funding and DC school vouchers in 2004.

Jonathan Allen, Effective House Leadership Makes the Most of Majority’, CQ Weekly, 29 March 2003: 746; Juliet Eilperin, ‘House GOP Practices Art Of One-Vote Victories’, Washington Post, 14 October 2003: A1.


pulled the intelligence bill from the floor in 2004 because a majority of Republicans did not support it,

although a bipartisan House majority did.

Implementing the Republicans partisan strategy means typically excluding minority Democrats from negotiations. A senior leadership staffer explained: “I think the Speaker’s philosophy … is you really can’t trust the Democrats until you get to 218; and [Minority Leader] Pelosi has done a pretty good job of keeping their troops in line. So, our working assumption – of course, it depends on what the issue is - is to rely on our own people.”84 The corollary to excluding the Democrats is maximising House Republican party unity. Hastert’s combination of leadership styles engenders party unity. So that on tight votes – and given the close margins in the House - Republicans are expected, even obliged to ‘do one for the team’; and sometimes almost as a heroic act that may be at the expense of their seats. A former leadership staff director provided this example: “When I was there, the closest vote we ever had was the trade vote - fast track authority, now trade promotion authority. … That was a vote that we held open for 40something minutes. We almost didn't take it to vote, because we didn't think we had the votes. … And every step of the way it was getting people on board who really didn't want to go with us, that wanted … that wanted to put their self-interests aside for the good of the team…. I mean, the Robin Hayes (R.SC) example. He came from a textile family, and a textile district. He could have lost his seat over that vote, but he cared enough about the team. He was willing to be a team player…. I don't even know if we made promises, but let me tell you: Robin Hayes would get anything he wanted, and he still would, because everybody is still so grateful to him. And that's part of it, too. And part of it, too, is knowing that these members know that if they get in trouble and they're in a tough seat, leadership is 200 percent there for them, and if we can give them a pass on a vote, we do …I mean we were very cognizant of trying to protect their interests.” 85 So, whereas in a previous era once an individual House member would be credited for his bipartisanship, under Hastert members receive greatest credit – and significant tangible political support - for taking tough votes for ‘the team’. Thus, a recalcitrant member having heard the Speaker rally his party on a piece of legislation at a Republican Conference meeting in the morning – and liking that party message, even though he/she might not intend to vote for the legislation – when subsequently targeted by the Speaker on a close vote will come under accumulated pressure to ‘Do it for the team’ - because most other copartisans are supporting the team. In this way, then, the entire team culture is reinforced, as members will be persuaded to conform and perceive that they can make tough votes because the party
83 84 85

Charles Babington, ‘Hastert Launches a Partisan Policy’, Washington Post, 27 November 2004: A1. Interview with leadership staffer B, 31 October 2003. Interview with former leadership staff director, 4 November 2003.


and the leadership will be there to help them at election time. Hastert’s combination of leadership styles serves to foster this party-as-team culture. The strong affiliative element in Hastert’s leadership style - the time and effort he himself devotes to listening, communicating with individual members, and explaining why certain actions have been taken or need to be taken – engenders trust in the Speaker personally and helps, therefore, in team building and keeping a sometimes fractious Republican Conference together. Senior Hastert staffers are in no doubt that their man’s personal style helps party unity. One explained: ‘You earn respect, even in the people who are disappointed by your decision. And that keeps the team together. So that when you need to lead, and come to [Republican members], everybody knows you're being serious and have the integrity to ask for that. You know, it's not always roses. Everybody says Republicans are in lockstep and they're always doing the same thing, but I would argue that there is much more handling, cajoling, and effort put in to get to that position, and I think that the Speaker has …His style of leadership is one I really respect for that’86 Another senior staffer contrasted House Republicans’ trust in Hastert with earlier member distrust of Gingrich, often enabling the former to take advantage of the strong team culture on tight floor votes to persuade centrist and conservative copartisans to toe the party line: “Newt would listen to members and make promises. The problem was that he would make several different promises to several different people, and then get himself into a lot of trouble. Denny’s very good at listening without making promises. I think that’s an exceptional part of his style. He’s also exceptionally good at finding other ways to make members happy without losing them on tight votes – whether on trade promotion authority or something else. Jim DeMint (R.SC) demanded a certain provision be voted on and Bill Thomas [Ways and Means Committee chair] didn’t want that provision to be voted on. I don’t remember what it was. But to get trade promotion authority through, DeMint made the Speaker sign a letter - and that’s what we did. The vote was taken care of and we got the trade promotion authority done. Another perfect example is on prescription drugs, when Jo Ann Emerson (R.MO) demanded that there should be a vote on reimportation and we had the vote and she voted for the prescription drug plan. That’s why we are in the position that we are right now. What the Speaker’s trying to do in these examples is build up a lot of goodwill with the members - because he always keeps his word.”87 Trust in Hastert is one factor facilitating party cohesion. Another is his relatively low profile and quiet, personal style, which facilitates the processing of conservative legislation without the clamour and polarisation of the Gingrich years. Further, by allowing committees and their chairs to play much stronger roles by presenting party colleagues with positive challenges, and by not monopolising the limelight and providing opportunities
86 87

Interview with staffer in House Majority Whip’s Office, 10 Jun 2004. Interview with senior Hastert staffer 31 October 2003.


for members “who can benefit more than him from a decision … to take credit for it”88 are all strategies pursued by Hastert that help him and they engender collective partisan identification with the team effort. 89 Finally, as the earlier discussion showed, there can be a coercive aspect to Hastert’s style and the implementation of his party’s strategy. The Speaker has been very explicit about party majority rule, explaining himself on this particular subject in somewhat contorted terms but terms nevertheless redolent of Reed and Cannon: “While a Speaker should strive to be fair, he also is judged by how he gets the job done. The job of the Speaker is to rule fairly, but ultimately to carry out the will of the Majority ... It is not always easy to be fair when you have a vested interest in the outcome. … We take the job of fairness very seriously. …We make certain that those serving in the Chair do not serve on the Committees of Jurisdiction for the business on the floor. And we try to be fair in the Rules Committee process. …But while we strive to be fair, we also strive to get the job done. … So, on occasion, you will see us take effective action to get the job done. Sometimes, we have a hard time convincing the majority of the House to vote like a majority of the House, so sometimes you will see votes stay open longer than usual. But the hallmark of an effective leadership is one that can deliver the votes. And we have been an effective leadership.”90 . We can see, then, from the previous analysis and discussion that a focus on Hastert’s leadership style, borrowing tools from social psychology, provides a useful vehicle by which to highlight the personal stylistic characteristics of a congressional leader and to see, therefore, how these can enhance the leader’s political effectiveness. Summarising, Speaker Hastert’s leadership style is strongest on affiliation, democratic leadership, and coaching and weakest on pacesetting and commanding. He is also weak as a visionary leader but nevertheless, as the previous analysis has shown, strong in providing non-visionary strategic leadership, which has clearly been a major ingredient to his party’s effectiveness in enacting its conservative legislative agenda. The distinctive elements of Hastert’s style, then, make him a ‘resonant’ party leader. He is not a dissonant leader, as Gingrich often was – indeed, far from it, as far as his copartisans are concerned. Implicit in, moreover, in this characterisation is that Hastert draws heavily on his own personality and skills, including his strong emotional intelligence, to develop an apparently effective combination of leadership styles. Conference colleagues like and respect his style – or combination of styles – and, in consequence, have come to trust his political judgement in ways in which they did not trust Gingrich.

88 89

Interview with staffer in House Majority Whip’s Office, 10 Jun 2004.

In common with Gingrich and other recent House speakers, Hastert regularly campaigns for House Republicans in their districts. In the 2003-2004 election cycle, he visited over 200 congressional districts to support Republican candidates. Telephone interview with John Feeheery, Press Officer to the Speaker, 5 December 2004.

Hastert, ‘Reflections on the Role of the Speaker’.


Discussion and Conclusion The typology is not perfect, especially in sorting out the overlaps among the different styles, and assessing the relative strengths of particular styles within a particular leader’s combination of styles. Some of the typology‘s leadership styles (notably the affiliative and coaching styles) are more important in describing the manner of leadership, and need therefore to be combined also with other styles that impute direction and capacity to change situations. Fitting congressional leaders into the typology is also problematic not least because the contexts and cultures of congressional politics and business are different: the former are populated by far more variables and many more uncertainties and unknowables than the latter; and, unlike most business leaders, congressional leaders must be elected by their peers and must interact directly or indirectly with the wider public. For these and other, more specific, reasons relating to the nature of contemporary politics in the House, it is absolutely necessary then to locate the evaluation of Hastert’s style within particular congressional time when partisan polarisation is strong and the imperatives for leader to pursue partisan strategies are typically inexorable. Notwithstanding these problems, this study of Hastert nevertheless makes the case that when we study congressional leadership we need to study leadership styles as well as leadership contexts since by doing so we recognise a crucial underlying assumption: that individual leaders make a difference. Given the ongoing debate over the relative weights that should be ascribed to leaders’ characteristics and context, not to explore sufficiently a leader’s personal stylistic characteristics, as well as context, is to explore only a partial model of congressional leadership, which therefore removes the possibility of exploring and hypothesising about the interactions between leaders’ characteristics, including styles, and context. Previous studies of Gingrich’s leadership by Mayhew, Owens, and Strahan and Palazzolo emphasise the importance of exploring the interactions between individual leaders and their (changing) contexts. The point is obvious to congressional insiders who perceive that voters distinguish between the main parties and judge them by their collective ‘brands’ or public reputations, 91 including their congressional actions, which are affected directly or indirectly by the actions of their leaders.92 Congressional leaders have a general responsibility for the stewardship of their party’s collective ‘brand’ or public reputation and a specific responsibility for ensuring that legislation is ‘at minimum defensible and preferably


Gary W. Cox, The Efficient Secret. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987; Kiewiet and McCubbins, The Logic of Delegation; Cox, and McCubbins. Legislative Leviathan; John H. Aldrich, Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Party Politics in America. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995: 49; John R. Petrocik, Party Coalitions: Realignment and the Decline of the New Deal Party System. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1981; Kaare Strom, 'A Behavioral Theory of Competitive Political Parties', American Journal of Political Science 34/2, 1990.

Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House; Sinclair, ‘The Emergence of Strong Leadership’.


broadly attractive’.93 House Republicans blamed Gingrich – his style and his actions – for the party’s electoral losses in 1996 and 199894 and concluded that party’s brand would be served better by Hastert’s low profile, cautious, style. Since 1998, a steadier hand has operated the House Republican tiller, 95 Republicans have ‘grown’ their majority from 11 to 29 for the first time since the 1920s, and the Congress’ public reputation has increased.96 There is no question that House Republicans give Hastert considerable credit for protecting House Republicans’ ‘brand’ and helping the party maintain its majority; and are chary of changing their leader. As one committee staff director noted: ‘Denny … doesn't open himself up to be the personification of what is bad with the Republican Party … Denny has never put himself in that position. He is not the public figure representing anything bad.”97 DeLay’s former staff director added: “ [Hastert’s] the reason we’re still in the majority. He is the glue”.98 In 2000, Hastert’s strategy consisted essentially of he and House Republicans maintaining a low profile, avoiding legislative battles that might remind voters of the 1995 government shutdown, Gingrich, and impeachment,99 and candidates emphasising local issues and ‘pork barrel spending on ‘roads, courthouses, schools, runways, and research’.100 A similar strategy was followed in 2002. So, when Enron and other corporate accounting scandals blew up months before the elections, Hastert perceived the political danger to his party, slapped down Republican opponents (including Ways and Means chair, Bill Thomas), and deftly manoeuvred House Republicans into a position that avoided public blame attaching to their party.101


Barbara Sinclair, ‘The Speaker as Party Leader’ in Ronald M. Peters, ed., The Speaker: Leadership in the US House of Representatives. Washington, DC. Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994: 49. Gary C. Jacobson, ‘The 105th Congress: Unprecedented and Unsurprising’ in Michael Nelson, ed., The Elections of 1996. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1997: 144-147; Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde, Change and Continuity in the 2000 and 20002 Elections. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2003: 190.
95 94

Smith and Gamm make a similar point. Steven S. Smith and Gerald Gamm, ‘The Dynamics of Party Government in Congress’, in Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered. 7th Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001: 262-263.

American National Election Survey results show that whereas the Congress had a disapproval rate of 60% in 1994 and 4647% approval-disapproval in 1996, by 2000 approval had risen to 52% and by 2002 to 64%. Of course, data relate to the Senate as well as the House, The question asked was 'Do you approve or disapprove of the way the U.S. Congress has been handling its job?' variable VCF0992 in the NES Cumulative Data File dataset. Virginia Sapiro, Steven J. Rosenstone, and the National Election Studies, 1948-2002 Cumulative Data File. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Center for Political Studies, 2003.
97 98 99

Interview with committee staff director, 6 November 2003. Quoted in Franzen, ‘The Listener’: 85.

CQ Weekly quoted a Republican election strategist in September 2000: “I don’t think it’s in the interest of the Bush campaign nor congressional Republicans to be an issue in November. What both of them should want is for Congress not to be an issue and to be invisible.” Andrew Taylor and Karen Foerstel, ‘GOP’s Hope for Graceful Exit Rides on Debt Reduction Plan’, CQ Weekly 16 September 2000: 2117.

Andrew Taylor, ‘Sound Like a Moderate, Vote Like a Conservative’, CQ Weekly 5 August 2000: 1930-1934; Mike Christensen, ‘Congress’ Cornucopia: A Sample of Spending Add-Ons’, CQ Weekly, 7 October 2000: 2322-2323.

Susan Crabtree, ‘Hastert Shoots Down GOP Attempt to Block Sarbanes Bill’, Roll Call, 16 July 2002: 24.


The wider theoretical point here goes beyond the need simply to explain House leadership in terms of leaders’ personal styles and characteristics to the more contentious point that the interaction is a twoway flow of influence: context may change – to a greater or lesser extent – as a consequence of leaders’ actions. The best case of this is Gingrich's leadership before and after the 1994 elections.102 To borrow Skowronek's phrase, Gingrich ‘made politics’.103 However, in his more modest, less dramatic way, so has Hastert. A second point is that not only are individual congressional leaders different, and interact differently with their changing contexts, they adapt their styles over time. Space does not allow detailed discussion of changes in Hastert’s speakership style over time. Even so, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that after Bush’s election in 2000, and especially after the 2002 elections, certain elements in Hastert’s style changed as he adapted his style to a changed strategic environment and directed a more partisan governing strategy built on minimum winning coalitions, excluding Democrats, and minimizing legislative concessions to party centrists. This is a much more aggressive style designed to shift public policy and the party’s ‘brand’ in a strongly conservative direction while at the same time avoiding public opprobrium towards the party. These changes in Hastert’s leadership style, it should be noted, were made without any significant changes occurring in the ideological composition, numerical plurality, or unity of his party.104 Moreover, despite leading his party to embrace potentially divisive issues (notably the budget deficit, education reform, and a new costly prescription drug entitlement programme) his position as House Speaker has been strengthened, really without internal challenge – although at the expense of further polarisation and disharmony in the House. As this research is extended, we should learn more about how interactions between styles and contexts change over time. A third concluding point is that although this paper has not devoted a great deal of attention to contextual factors, a constant theme running through all the discussion of Hastert’s style has been how his style interacts with the context with which he must work. As the contextualists contend and previous work on Hastert has shown,

contexts (plural) matter – and they matter very much. They

impose real constraints on a leader's scope for action. The strategic environment in which congressional leaders seek to exercise leadership is a multidimensional and dynamic phenomenon. It

Peters, ‘The Republican Speakership’; Peters, ‘Institutional Context and Leadership Style’; John E, Owens, 'Late Twentieth Century Congressional Leaders as Shapers of and Hostages to Political Context: Gingrich, Hastert, and Lott', Politics and Policy, June 2002: 242; and Strahan and Palazzolo, ‘The Gingrich Effect’.

Stephen Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make. Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1997. The standard deviations for Poole’s first dimension DW NOMINATE scores for the 107th and 108th Houses (2003-10 December 2004) were .159 and .160, respectively, compared with .154 in the 106th House (1999-2000).
105 104

Owens, 'Late Twentieth Century Congressional Leaders’: 242-243, 256; John E, Owens, ‘Challenging (and Acting for) the President: Congressional Leadership in an Era of Partisan Polarization’ in George C. Edwards and John Philip Davies, eds., New Challenges for the American Presidency, New York: Longman 2003: 128.


comprises many different contexts - most importantly, parliamentary arithmetic and the policy preferences of copartisans, but also includes the electoral context and/or public opinion, the majority party's poll ratings, the leader's reputation in the chamber, formal and informal arrangements within the chamber, the president's public reputation and skills, the salience of a particular issue, and so on. Moreover, the point was made earlier that interactions among the different contexts can change pretty rapidly – as, for example, between the Clinton and Bush presidencies; after the 1996 and 1998 elections that reduced Republican majorities in the House; after the Jeffords' defection returned Democrats to a (narrow) majority in the Senate, and after Bush entered the White House and Republicans increased their House majority after the 2002 midterm elections. Once elected as Speaker, Hastert accommodated to the political contexts that he perceived faced his party: he deliberately delineated a smaller, more modest legislative agenda in early 1999, that would tap into popular concerns about education, social security and health care, and recognised President Clinton’s popularity and political skills. Subsequently, when faced with the Columbine shootings, he went some way to accommodate to the changed gun control context, wished to present his party as reasonable and response to popular pressures fuelled by Clinton for stronger gun control, and organised a task force that would address the issue. The former staff director for a senior leader, who is strongly anti-control, strongly emphasised the contribution made by Hastert’s skill and style in accommodating to the changed context: “The way he handled the whole gun control issue, I think, really set the gun control movement back for years. It is now conventional wisdom in this town that if you are for gun control, that is politically a negative, except in some very, you know, isolated districts. … Denny always takes a reasonable look at issues … and I think that's what any good leader would do after something like Columbine: examine all of your options. But, … when we did the gun bill in the House … it was very masterfully done. It was Hastert and his staff who actually came up with the legislative move that I think helped get us through it, which was basically to take the gun issues and then take some of the kind of pro-family, judiciary type issues.”106 The theoretical implications of these findings are that although extremely important, contextual factors alone do not determine congressional leadership strategies. Rather contexts plus a leader’s personality, his/her leadership styles, and his/her skills of discernment, judgment and action, which a leader applies to inherently fluid strategic contexts all represent significant elements in the study of congressional leadership. As the Hastert example shows, these skills help determine when a leader should pursue partisan or bipartisan strategies, when to stand firm or compromise with the other party or the president, and so forth – and in consequence leaders themselves become elements in the multidimensional and dynamic strategic environment.


Interview with former leadership staff director, 4 November 2003.


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