Who Are the 'Establishment Republicans'?
Anger, Confusion and Division in 2016
The line distinguishing "establishment" and "conservative" used to be clear.
“[A] man whose political principles have any decided character and who has energy enough to give them effect must always expect to encounter political hostility from those of adverse principles.” —Thomas Jefferson (1808)
Rancorous political contests are nothing new. George Washington was elected without opposition in 1789 and 1793. But in the first contested presidential campaign in 1796, when Washington’s VP John Adams faced Thomas Jefferson, there was vitriolic debate and acrimony between the candidates.
So it has been for most of the last 220 years in presidential politics. Notably, one of those elections, that of our 16th president Abraham Lincoln, was so contentious it literally divided the nation in 1860 and led to the bloody War Between the States.
But the current GOP primary season is a case study in how anger and despair lead to confusion and delusion, which has resulted in enormous division within a political party, before getting to the general election.
I profiled the GOP primary breakdown last July in a column on the “Obama Effect” and its impact on the current election cycle. Over the last seven years, Barack Hussein Obama has taken the Democratic Party so far left that an avowed Socialist is now a serious contender against the Democrats' “establishment candidate,” Hillary Clinton.
For the record, Clinton clearly fits the “establishment” definition for her party, but on the GOP side, there is a lot of division that begins with the fundamental adulteration of the definition of “establishment” as it pertains to Republicans.
Two weeks ago, Donald Trump told a group of his supporters: “Seven months ago before I decided to run, I was part of the establishment. But now I’m not part of the establishment.” Just like seven months ago he was a Democrat but now he’s not a Democrat.
So just what does this word “establishment” mean in the Republican political context?
Until six months ago, “establishment Republican” was synonymous with “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only), but those descriptive labels have lost virtually all meaning in the fog of this primary.
In general terms, establishment Republicans were big-government politicos who appeased their base with the pretense of fiscal conservatism, but were moderate or even liberal in regard to the size and role of government. A few “old guard” names that come to mind are George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, John Boehner, Arlen Specter, Jon Huntsman, Charlie Crist, Lisa Murkowski, Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Since the end of the Reagan era, these politicians and their ilk have formed a “permanent political class” that has largely controlled the Republican Party.
For the most part, these Republicans have been indistinguishable from Democrats in their inattention to — if not their outright violation of — their oaths “to Support and Defend” our Constitution. Instead, their allegiance has been to special interest groups sucking up redistributed tax dollars and ballooning our national debt.
Conversely, “conservative Republicans” are grassroots folks who honor their oaths — advocates first and foremost for Liberty, who can articulate first principles. They are the many fresh faces on Capitol Hill including Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and Arkansas' Tom Cotton.
Notably, when asked recently, Trump was unable to define “conservatism,” but when Sen. Ben Sasse was asked the same question, he offered a 90-second response that clearly distinguishes between “conservative” and “establishment.”
Occasionally there are groundswells of grassroots conservatives who are inspired either by a national leader with an impeccable conservative pedigree — Ronald Reagan — or in reaction to the threat to Liberty posed by an ideological Socialist like Obama.
It was Obama’s election in 2008 that gave rise to the Tea Party Movement in 2010.
That resurgence of a new generation of American Patriots led to historic victories in the House and Senate in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, seating more genuine conservatives than at any other time in the last century. Moreover, there were conservative victories wide and deep in statehouses and local governments across the nation.
The contrast between “conservative” and “establishment” has rarely been more evident than in the 2010 and 2014 elections.
So what happened this year?
Donald Trump. His political fortunes have been propelled by three primary factors: “The Obama Effect,” “The Fratricidal Field of Contenders” and “ Media Propulsion.” To his campaign’s credit, he has masterfully capitalized on each of those factors.
Days after Trump’s insistence that he is now “not part of the establishment,” the most quintessential of establishment Republicans, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, endorsed him.
Recall that prior to his endorsement of Trump, Christie warned: “Always beware of the candidate for public office who has the quick and easy answer to a complicated problem. … I just don’t think that [Trump] is suited to be president of the United States. … We do not need reality TV in the Oval Office right now. [The presidency] is not a place for an entertainer. … Showtime is over. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. … [If you vote for Trump] we could wind up turning over the White House to Hillary Clinton for four more years.”
Now he insists, “The best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November … is undoubtedly Donald Trump.”
“Undoubtedly”? All of the current reputable polling consistently indicates that Trump loses to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in head-to-head matchups, but, more importantly, he would be resoundingly defeated by Clinton. Recall that Trump previously endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying she’d be a “great president or vice president.” When asked who was the best president of the last two decades, Trump responded, “Bill Clinton.”
That notwithstanding, Trump’s primary supporters, about 30% of GOP voters, generally insist he is the “conservative candidate” and the rest of the field, and anyone critical of Trump, is now “establishment.”
The most anti-establishment conservatives across the nation, and their Tea Party counterparts, have uniformly condemned Trump as a farce, a phony and a fraud.
In testament to that condemnation, last week Trump canceled his speech before the largest gathering of conservative activists in the nation — the Conservative Political Action Conference. Apparently Trump didn’t want the rejection of his candidacy by genuine grassroots conservatives to dominate headlines and airwaves nationwide ahead of Super Saturday.
Notably, his cancelation came after one of the most “anti-establishment” leaders nationwide — Tea Party Patriots founder Jenny Beth Martin — urged her fellow conservatives to reject Trump’s “seductive pitch.” Martin declared, “I know you’re angry and I know you’re upset too and I know that Donald Trump’s tapping into that anger. It’s a smart campaign strategy because he makes it seem like he shares our frustration and it’s like he’s fighting on our behalf.”
Except that he isn’t.
“Donald Trump loves himself first, last and everywhere in between,” Martin warned. “He loves himself more than our country, he loves himself more than the Constitution.”
So do Trump supporters now consider the Tea Party movement “establishment”?
At the end of the CPAC confab, when the results of the annual straw poll attendees had been tabulated, 40% voted for Ted Cruz, 30% for Marco Rubio and 15% for Trump. Does that mean 85% of CPAC activists are “establishment Republicans”?
Ironically, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation and other left-of-center publications are also using “establishment Republican” to define anyone who doesn’t support Trump.
Despite the flood of conservative objections to Trump’s claim that he’s a Republican, the wave of anger he’s ridden so masterfully has won him a very devoted following — so devoted, in fact, that because The Patriot Post has questioned Trump’s credibility, we now stand accused of being “pawns of the establishment.” Nowhere is Trump’s “seductive pitch” more apparent than in the email protests I receive from his most loyal devotees, who condemn my analyses of his populist appeal. Most of those complaints are “single issue” disagreements based on Trump’s rhetoric — Rubio on immigration or Cruz on eligibility.
Here’s are representative excerpts of those objections, minus the profanity:
“I’m a Tea Party Patriot, and have been of like mind with The Patriot Post for years. But now you’re backing the RINO establishment candidates. … You are anti-Trump pro-establishment mouthpieces. You are traitors to the Republican Party. … Donald Trump is the unanimous favorite, yet you insist he is not a conservative. … Now we have a person standing up to the establishment and The Patriot Post has not endorse him. … You’re a pawn of the established political machine. … You are going to lose subscribers and contributions.”
Several times each week, I respond to those objections. My response generally follows this line of reason with questions:
“Define ‘establishment Republican’ for me, and describe which candidates fall into that category and why you classify them as such. … Our analysis of every political issue and personality is NOT based on popular opinion — we are a ‘Republic,’ not a ‘dumbocracy.’ Our unwavering position on politicians and policy issues has been, from our first day publishing 20 years ago to this day, steadfastly rooted in the foundational defense of Liberty and Rule of Law. … If you have shared our principled defense of Liberty as one of our supporters for many years, then you might ask what has altered or obscured your devotion to Liberty? … How is it that all those analysts and publications classified as ‘conservative’ a year ago are now being reclassified by Trump’s supporters as ‘establishment’? Arguably, if not obviously, Donald Trump poses a greater threat to Liberty and Rule of Law than any candidate under the GOP banner since the Republican Party’s inception.”
Having written more than 30 responses over the last two months, I have yet to received a single reply. But the fact is, we have lost some readers and donors, almost all of whom indicate they agree with our position on just about everything but Trump…
That concerns me.
The prospect of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination is a clear and present possibility, and because advertising supports 99% of media outlets, they have already tailored their editorial content accordingly. I’m reminded of a recent comment from CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who said of Trump’s candidacy, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Make no mistake, “conservative” ad-revenue-supported news outlets like Fox News have also adjusted the tenor and tone of their content to increase market share and ad revenues.
But The Patriot Post, at its inception, elected a donor-funded revenue model to avoid advertising influence over our editorial content. That is why our analysis has always been steadfastly and uniformly framed by our nation’s First Principles and our devotion to American Liberty.
As you know, though we have editorial writers across the nation, our editorial shop is located in the mountains of east Tennessee — far removed from the Beltway roosts of most political analysts. Thus, our editorial analysis is, likewise, far removed from ubiquitous Beltway opinion, as reflected in every word we’ve written about Donald Trump.
Earlier this week, I called a special meeting of our key editors and staff.
These are grassroots conservatives, all married with mortgages to pay, and some with houses full of kids. We discussed the implications of standing firm in our “first principles” assessment of Trump and the impact it might have on our budget. I wanted them to know that I could not predict if holding to principle might affect their modest salaries.
It was no surprise — at least not to me — that each and every person in that room re-stated their devotion to First Principles and Liberty, and reiterated that their mission eclipsed their concern about our ability to make budget, despite the implications for each of them personally. They did not arrive at that conclusion with reckless abandon, but with the fortitude of generations of American Patriots devoted, first and foremost, to Liberty.
In his first inaugural address (1801), Thomas Jefferson wrote of those who opposed him, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.”
Again, we share the foundational principles expressed by most Trump supporters, who are rightly angry and dissatisfied with “establishment Republicans.”
Our perspective on Trump’s appeal coincides with this observation from National Review’s Mark Wright: “I have no animus for the vast bulk of Trump’s voters — I disagree with their choice for president; I think it to be an unwise choice that will harm the country, the conservative movement, and the Republican party — but I believe almost all of them are voting for Trump because they love America, are tired of seeing their country run by weak and feckless leaders, and are rightly distraught at the state of our union.”
In his 1988 address to the Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan said, “You don’t become president of the United States. You are given temporary custody of an institution called the presidency, which belongs to our people.”
In our considered opinion, in the bright light of Liberty, Donald Trump is a threat to the constitutional standing of that institution.
Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis