What Is “Establishment”?

The question of what it means to be “establishment” has come up several times this primary election season. For Democrats and Republicans. For politicians and organizations. It makes perfect sense to ponder what it really means, because a lot rides on the answer.

When Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Organization expressed their support for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, Bernie Sanders said they were part of the establishment. Planned Parenthood, HRO, and others recoiled at the remark, suggesting that somehow being organizations that offered services for the needy made them part of the fringe.

Bernie Sanders remarked during a recent debate that Hillary Clinton was the establishment candidate, and Hillary Clinton countered that with more than 29 years in Congress no one was a better example of establishement politician than Bernie Sanders.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz battle it out over who is the most outsider candidate, neither one admitting to the status of establishment politician, and the same can be said for the candidate who placed third in the recent Iowa caucuses, Marco Rubio.

So what makes someone “establishment”? Is it just someone who works in Congress? Is it just someone who works with lobbyists to represent Washington, D.C. power political interests? I would suggest it is far more than that.

I would suggest that any organization that curries politicians and businesses and celebrities for funding – such as Planned Parenthood – is establishment. Any group that takes public stands on issues and sides with established politicians to move its agenda is establishment – such as Planned Parenthood.

Further, I would suggest that anyone who has been First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, rubbed elbows with Washington, D.C., power elite – indeed, the power elite of the world – to raise funds for the world’s most powerful foundation, and raised political fund from lobbyists and special interest groups who seek to shape public opinion and public policy but not necessarily for public good is establishment. Like Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, I would suggest that being on Congress for over 29 years is not in and of itself enough to make you an establishment candidate. Not when you spend your whole career fighting establishment power elite and establishment agenda. Not when you refuse to accept establishment funding for your campaign. Like Bernie Sanders.

Donald Trump may not be a member of the political machinery, but he has funded it and rubbed elbows with it for decades. As a very rich man, he has not only been a funder of campaigns but he has been influential in campaigns. And he has been influential in the growth and economy of many metropolitan areas. I would say that Donald Trumps is very establishment.

In the same way, Ted Cruz is a creature of the establishment, not just because he is a sitting U.S. Senator, but because he is a creature of political fundraising among the conservative money establishment. He was also a busybody in Congress fomenting revolution among the U.S. House members, vying for political power against the House leadership. Perhaps not as establishment as some members of the U.S. Senate, he remains beholding to his seat in the Senate and the religious right political movement for his power and to big money for his campaign, and that makes him establishment in my book.

These are just a few of the figures in today’s fluid political environment who we can look at in the question of what is “the establishment” and wonder who fits the moniker. There are few who don’t fit it today.


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