Transformational Leader or Faithful Agent?
Principal-Agent Theory and House Majority Party Leadership
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIV:421-49

Newt Gingrich’s phenomenal successes in the 104th Congress led many political scientists to question the discipline’s prevalent conception of congressional leadership. Most see congressional leaders as agents who must satisfy members’ expectations to get reelected. Those expectations arise from members’ goals and from the political and institutional context in which they attempt to advance them.

The change in the political context between the 104th and 105th Congresses provides something of a natural experiment. A comparison of party leadership in the 104th with leadership before the 104th as well as in the 105th allows us to assess the adequacy of principal-agent theory for making sense of a complicated, even exceptional, case.

I assess continuity and change in the rate and type of House majority party leadership activity and in leadership strategies. Compared with the Democratic leaderships of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gingrich’s leadership in the 104th Congress shows considerable continuity but also some distinctive features. The considerable changes in Republican leadership from the 104th to the 105th can be explained by changes in context that altered members’ expectations.

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