Thanks for the response, Stephen. Your interpretation sounds a bit like a subjective impression to me. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, but it does require it to be tested against the counter-evidence.
My take would be that Gingrich was merely one step on the road to partisan conflict rather than any major causal factor. Remember how Gingrich made his name in the House — by taking down Jim Wright. Wright was a devoted attack dog for Democrats as Speaker as part of a concerted effort to hamstring Reagan and then GHWBush as POTUS. He was no Tip O’Neill. Gingrich designed the take-no-prisoners Republican strategy to take back the House that had been in Dems’ hands for 40 years. Wright and the Dems had the same strategy to upend the string of Republican POTUSes from Nixon to Bush sandwiched around the one dissastrous term of Carter.
Gingrich was successful in 1994, which shocked Democrats but then he overreached with the impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal. My balanced take on all this is that our parties have polarized in the interest of electoral politics, governance be damned. I see it on both sides, responding to the incentives in place. The media have merely chosen up sides in order to stay relevant and in business. I don’t see Gingrich as any more of a causal factor than Wright, Boehner, or Pelosi.
On the religious angle I’ve actually done a bit of primary research. The religious right became mobilized by the SCOTUS decisions of the 1960s and especially Roe v. Wade in 1973. They gravitated rightward with their disappointment in Carter as a Southern Baptist and turned out for Reagan. Republican strategist Lee Atwater, and then his protege Karl Rove, discovered that Christian congregations offered ideal political messaging audiences every Sunday in church or on the radio or tv. They recruited evangelists to deliver their political messages.
But congregations were not predisposed to partisanship, they were merely available through these channels to hear value appeals from Republican candidates. I view this much the same way as labor unions in the mid-century for Democrats. It just so happens that as unions were being demobilized by post-industrial technology, religious congregations were being mobilized by that same technology. But it’s difficult to see how this has paid off for religious conservatives any more than Democrat appeals to identity has paid off for inner-city minorities. It mostly looks like vote pandering to keep the base in line.
In any event, in surveying mega-Churches across the mid-West for book research, I found congregations receive political messaging consistent with their social conservative values, but they show up for church for social and spiritual reasons, not political messaging. In the US we have a plurality of hundreds of competing religious congregations and on doctrine they rarely agree, except when being attacked enmasse for exercising their faith. Secularists claim religion is a private manner, but I can’t think of anything much more public than a church.