'Establishment Republican': A Conservative Pejorative

Conservative Republican Party activists and voters often use the term “Establishment Republican.”  Their perception is that Establishment Republicans are more interested in harmony with their Democratic colleagues and in accolades from the major media than they are in fighting for conservative principals.  Many consider Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to be the prototype.

As a case in point, one conservative Republican Party official recently recalled that during the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain told the crowd that it wouldn't really be that bad if his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, won the election. In the mind of this Republican, Establishment Republicans don't have the fight or “fire in their bellies” to stand up to rival Democrats or to the media.

This is the image invoked by conservatives Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Tea Party, and libertarians when they speak of establishment Republicans. 

Certainly, less conservative Republican officeholders exist, as they do within the various Republican Party organizations and within the Republican electorate. Republican officeholders who pander to competing politicians in an effort to please the media are careless politicians, more interested in reelection than in statesmanship. There are those who allow themselves to make careless or foolish statements because they can get away with it with their constituents. 

The American Establishment

Every hardworking, God-fearing, law-abiding American family is a member of the American Establishment. It is not in Conservatives’ interest to denigrate the words “Establishment,” or “Republican,” or to use either word as part of a pejorative catchphrase. A pejorative use of these words is also simply wrong. The American Establishment began with the Founding Fathers. The American Establishment is a proud institution, comprising such names as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan. The Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, is also a proud institution and a member of the American Establishment. 

The Republican Establishment Professional

Experienced, prudent, conservative, center-right Republican office holders are members of the American Establishment and possess a vital prerequisite demanded in every résumé -- experience. These Republicans are Republican Establishment Professionals.

Republican Establishment Professionals are practical individuals who believe in sound governance, and in sound public policy. They believe in the conservative dictum that one should never tear down a fence until he understands the reason it was built. 

Republican Establishment Professionals also understand the art of the possible. The art of the possible is not the art of the easy, or the art of the sucking up to the media, or the art of pretending I'm conservative when I am really a member of the liberal-left. The art of the possible is not the art of the lazy. True, some Republicans say they are going along with the Democrats because they believe it's the only possible way -- when it's not. That said, if one looks past House Speaker John Boehner's cheek smooching of Nancy Pelosi and past the Tea Party's narrative, and looks at his voting record, Boehner has voted against every piece of domestic Democratic legislation.  The same was true of former Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor.   

One of the greatest Republican conservative politicians was also an establishment professional.  He was the last great Republican Governor of Massachusetts, and President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.  It was no accident that the 20's were one of the most positive, productive, dynamic decades in American history. Coolidge was not the prime mover; but he was very much part of it, and he didn't discourage it. 

Further Defining the Establishment Professional

Republicans, Democrats, and civil service professionals can and should disagree with each other, but all should be establishment professionals.  Establishment professionals have defining characteristics.

1) Establishment Professionals are innovative. 

Presidents Coolidge and Reagan excelled in innovative approaches. In 1924, Coolidge had his photo taken at his father's farm in Vermont conferring with three very innovative members of the establishment: Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison. The New York Times printed the photo, calling it one of the most important, reassuring meetings in American history. Coolidge gave the first national address on radio, and promoted aviation in several ways, including White House meetings with Charles Lindbergh.

President Reagan was innovative in both domestic and foreign policy. Reagan used "supply-side" economics to lower taxes and increase revenue in a highly innovative and necessary approach given the economic climate at the time. In reality, supply-side economics was what Coolidge and his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon had called "scientific economics," and had used to balance the budget and pay federal World War I debt. In foreign policy, Reagan rearmed the U.S. while simultaneously engaging in intense and effective diplomacy with the Soviet Union -- a highly innovative approach after many years of military downsizing that followed détente, and the subsequent Carter Administration's approach to foreign policy which had also cut defense expenditures.   

 2) Establishment Professionals know that government is not the private sector.  

The federal government is far larger and far more complicated than any corporation.  Government leaders must govern in a financially responsible way.  Sound governance and public policy, not profit, are government's objectives.  The private sector does not provide instruction or experience in foreign policy, intelligence, and defense issues.

3) There are two private sector techniques that government managers should emulate. 

Hire the right person to do the job and get out of his way. Government managers are often micromanagers who want to fashion the message of everything that comes out of their departments. They are, therefore, unwilling to adopt that private sector management technique of getting out of the way.  Unfortunately, those whom we used to call "micromanagers" and "control freaks" now call themselves "Type A personalities" and defend their misguided management no matter how dismal the results.

Successful private sector firms boost efficiency and cut costs by flattening management structures.  Establishment professionals value the "worker bees" and understand that, within the hive, there must be more worker bees than drones.

4) Establishment professionals uphold the highest standards. 

For establishment professionals, it is a point of pride to be public servants who make less than some individuals in the private sector. The Mexican political elite have a saying: "a politician who is poor is a poor politician."  Many American politicians like the Clintons appear to live this mantra. This is called corruption.  Establishment professionals disdain corruption, and treat it with zero tolerance. Non-corrupt public servants are a large group. Non-corrupt public servants deserve the same respect as law enforcement and military personnel.   

Establishment professionals work with those who disagree with them. Establishment professionals celebrate basic shared values that they bring to the public square. These are: "Thou Shall Not Kill; Thou Shall Not Steal; Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor." Establishment professionals also agree to protect and defend the American constitution and U.S. laws.  Establishment professionals embrace Christians and non-Christians. Compromise is a good thing. Establishment professionals recognize that Non-Christians are not Anti-Christians. Anti-Christians do not share the basic values of the American public square, and present a serious challenge to the successful functioning and survival of the American system.    

Ray Smith is a Senior Subject Matter Expert at Cyberspace Solutions, LLC, a national security, intelligence, and defense firm headquartered in Reston, Virginia.