After the election of 1982, he recruited twelve disciples and named them the Conservative Opportunity Society. Then he took control of a much larger group called GOPAC and turned it into a giant recruitment-and-training operation, sending out a stream of audiotapes and videotapes to promote his slogans and strategies. He began comparing himself to Churchill, FDR, and Benjamin Franklin.
He became a master of wedge issues, calling Democrats unpatriotic, accusing them of sympathizing with communists, even blaming them for Woody Allen's affair with Soon-Yi and Susan Smith's murder of her children in South Carolina. To badger the moderates in his own party, he called Bob Dole the "tax collector for the welfare state" and threatened House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois with extinction.
But it was the nakedness of his attack on Speaker Jim Wright of Texas that shocked traditionalists of both parties. Working the press relentlessly all over the country, Gingrich began calling Wright the "least-ethical Speaker of the twentieth century" and leaking vague but ominous charges: Was he involved in the teenage-page scandal? Did he scam a pension out of the Air Force Reserve? Did he lobby a foreign president on behalf of a Texas oil family? Eventually a few stories got printed and Gingrich passed them out, sparking more stories. A couple of senior Republicans looked into his evidence and told him he didn't have anything, others looked a second time and told him the same. But Gingrich would not relent.
One charge finally stuck — that Wright failed to report income from a vanity book he sold in bulk to supporters, earning about $60,000. The charge seems especially brazen given Gingrich's own adventures in creative financing: A few years before, he had taken $13,000 from a group of wealthy friends to write a novel; he took $105,000 to promote another book, and would later use at least $1 million of GOPAC's money to underwrite a satellite-TV college class that fed the staff that produced his books and strategy memos. But it was enough to humiliate and destroy Wright.