The American People vs. the Political Establishment
Over the course of 228 years since the ratification of the United States Constitution every presidential election cycle has been identified in history by an overriding issue or movement. In 2016 the underlying theme is the anger and disgust directed toward the political establishment. Per the polls, an overwhelming majority of the American people see their family’s’ and the nation’s future as extremely bleak, and the current political leaders in Washington as being megalomaniacal, avaricious, narcissistic or feckless. Not since the early days of the Great Depression has the citizenry, regardless of political affiliation, been so fearful of the future and so infuriated with the nation’s governing class.
There are, at present, 14 declared candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination -- 3 in the Democratic Party and 11 in the Republican Party. Considering the general mood of the country where do these hopefuls fit into the overall framework of the political establishment?
On these pages in January of 2012 I defined the political establishment as being made up of the following:
- A preponderance of current and retired national office holders whose livelihoods (re-election for current office holders and lobbying or consulting for retired politicians) requires fealty to the Party in order to maintain financial backing as well as access to government largess;
- The majority of the media elite, including pundits, editors, writers and television news personalities based in Washington and New York, whose proximity to power and access is vital in order to gratify their self-esteem and to sustain their standard of living;
- Academia, numerous think-tanks, so called non-government organizations, and lobbyists who fasten onto those in any administration and Congress for employment, grants, favorable legislation and ego-gratification;
- The reliable deep pocket political contributors and political consultants whose future is irrevocably tied to the political machinery of the Party; and
- The crony capitalists, i.e. leaders of the corporate and financial community as well as unions, whose entities are dependent on or subject to government oversight and/or benevolence and whose political contributions assure political cooperation.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, there is no one currently in the race for president that exemplifies the current governing class more than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist and the antithesis of the establishment as defined above, is doing extraordinarily well against Hillary notwithstanding her overwhelming starting advantage in fundraising and having the weight of the Democratic Party behind her. Among the factors contributing to Sanders’s showing is that Hillary is unlikeable and untrustworthy, but more importantly a large percentage of the base in the Democratic Party is also fed up with the political establishment, as well as the paucity of choices foisted on them by the Democratic Party hierarchy, and is venting that frustration in their backing of Bernie Sanders. Nonetheless, the Democrat wing of the establishment will make certain he will not win the nomination regardless of what may happen to Hillary Clinton.
While there are numerous choices on the Republican side of the spectrum, in reality there are relatively few that are not now or have never been a major part of the Republican wing of the current political class.
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie have been a part of the establishment for their entire political careers as they have been in the political arena for nearly their entire adult life and dependent on Party support for their electoral success. They cannot escape nor plausibly deny their membership in the establishment.
Marco Rubio, a relative newcomer and a very attractive candidate on the surface, sold his soul to the Washington political class when he agreed to co-sponsor and promote a so called comprehensive immigration bill (i.e. amnesty). Further he has chosen to be in lockstep with the Republican Senate leadership on numerous other issues. His willingness to compromise and do the bidding of Party leadership casts a long shadow of suspicion on how malleable he would be with the insiders if elected President.
Rand Paul claims the mantle of political independence as a Libertarian/Republican and has shown some degree of willingness to stand up for certain principles. Nonetheless, in repayment for Senator Mitch McConnell’s backing, Paul endorsed and was a major supporter of McConnell in his re-election bid and he has rarely deviated from McConnell’s agenda during his tenure in the Senate. Thus any claim he might proffer while on the campaign trail that he has consistently fought the establishment would be highly suspect.
At the risk of offending the diehard supporters of Donald Trump, who may view him as the nation’s savior, Donald Trump has been a part of the political establishment or “Ruling Class” for his entire adult life, whether as a registered Republican or Democrat or Independent. Per the above list of what groups constitute the establishment:
The crony capitalists, i.e. leaders of the corporate and financial community as well as unions, whose entities are dependent on or subject to government oversight and/or benevolence and whose political contributions assure political cooperation.
By his own admission Trump has contributed, over the past 40 years, millions of dollars to both parties (considerably more to Democrats than Republicans) in order to buy influence and thus help underwrite their political agendas -- the definition of crony capitalism. He has vacillated from one extreme to the other in his various stances on the issues during the past forty years but his one consistent has been to unabashedly support the political establishment and thus he has played a significant financial role in fostering the nation’s current dilemmas. He is now claiming to be anti-establishment.
Donald Trump has unnerved the Republican wing of the political establishment not because of who he is (they are aware of his establishment bona fides) or even his ever changing positions on various issues. Rather the Republican hierarchy fears Trump is so personally polarizing in a nation whose demographics are rapidly changing that he would lose the general election to Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat if she, due to legal complications, is not nominated
If the foundational basis of the angst of the American people is infuriation with the current governing class, then there are only three candidates that have either never been a part of the establishment or have without reservation confronted the current governing class. They are Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. These same people have, not coincidentally, been declared as persona non grata by the overall political establishment.
As the primary season is about to commence and actual votes cast will the voting populace acquiesce once again to the political establishment in both parties and place their fellow travelers on the presidential ballot or are the American people truly angry enough to finally drive a stake through the heart of the current political establishment or is that merely something they tell the pollsters?