A large portion of Donald Trump’s supporters are anti-Establishment. They are tired of the failures in Washington DC that have given us obtuse governance, the worse economic conditions that the country has seen since Jimmy Carter, and a changing American landscape that promotes political correction over common sense. Sadly, the majority of his supporters have not taken a close enough look at his proposed policies or personal history that clearly reveal he’s as embedded in the Establishment as the Bush’s or Clintons and he’s a bigger part of the Establishment than candidates like Ted Cruz (who we support) and Bernie Sanders (who we oppose).
What makes someone part of the Establishment? Before we can answer that, we have to understand what the nebulous “Establishment” really is. First, it’s important to understand that the “Establishment” has no party affiliations. There are subsets – the Republican Establishment, the Democratic Establishment, K-Street, media moguls, and several smaller categories make up what is commonly referred to as simply “The Establishment.” The different subsets often fight each other, but at the end of the day they come together to make deals.
The second thing to remember is that the Establishment and the cronyism that drives it is comprised mostly of people who are not politicians. People like George Soros, the Kock Brothers, Karl Rove, and a slew of lobbyists make up a larger portion of the Establishment than actual elected officials. In fact, an argument can be made that the bulk of the actual power brokers setting policy for the Establishment have addresses in New York City, Chicago, and Silicon Valley, not Washington DC.
Third, the primary capital of the Establishment is not money. Power and influence are much more important than cold hard cash. This is one of the reasons it’s so humorous when Trump says that he’s not controlled by the Establishment because he’s rich. The truth is that he is more involved in controlling and being controlled than some of the other candidates, most notably Cruz and Sanders.
Lastly, being part of the Establishment does not mean going to secret New World Order meetings or taking bribes from lobbyists. Some who are part of the Establishment aren’t even fully aware of their part because it’s never explicitly stated. A perfect example of this is the Gang of Eight. Marco Rubio ran as a Tea Party candidate to get elected to the Senate on a platform that was squarely against amnesty. In his first year as a Senator, his potential was noticed by Establishment insiders John McCain and Chuck Schumer. They approached him. They convinced him that it would be politically expedient for him to work with them. They groomed him. Then, the set him out to demonstrate his Establishment chops in pushing the bill forward. He (probably) wasn’t told that he was joining a shrouded organization of power brokers that run the country and the world. He was told that to achieve his ambition of becoming President, he needed to establish himself as a dealmaker, a person who could bridge the gaps between conservatives and moderates as well as between Republicans and Democrats.
That’s how the Establishment is built. There’s (probably) no secret handshake or black and gold membership card. They (probably) don’t sacrifice goats before a moon god or drink the blood of snakes. They sell the dream of cooperation and they tell their recruits that this is how things get done in Washington DC. If they buy into the pitch (and most do) then they’re indoctrinated over time to the ways of the world. If they don’t buy into it, they’re shunned by their colleagues, forced to stand alone for keeping their campaign promises, and have jokes made about how they could be murdered.
With those four things understood, let’s look at the traits that we can recognize in a Presidential candidate when they are beholden to the Establishment:
- Deal Making: Why did Congress give President Obama the budget he requested in the omnibus bill? The Establishment made it happen. Why did so many oppose the Iran Deal, yet it was allowed to creep under a veto-proof dissent? The Establishment cut a deal. Why does Obamacare still exist? The Establishment caved to dealmaking.
- Money is NOT the Currency: Corruption at the local, city, county, and sometimes even state level is often driven by greed. Politicians at the lower levels can be bought. At the higher levels, bribes are not made with cash. They’re made with influence. They’re made through power. Yes, there is a campaign contribution component that goes into control of Congressman and Senators, but Presidents aren’t bribed this way. They operate based upon an agenda and the highest currency for them is the influence and power associated with the Establishment itself. Again, this is why it’s ludicrous when Trump points to Cruz’s loan from Goldman Sachs (which was smaller than loans they gave to Trump, by the way) as an example that he’s bought. Does Trump really believe that Cruz’s loan officer is going to call him in the Oval Office and demand that he veto a bill on banking regulations? Of course he doesn’t believe it, but he knows his supporters are ignorant to the ways of political influence.
- There’s a Difference Between Campaign Ideology and Establishment Reality: If someone campaigns as very pro-life, does the Establishment walk away from them? Of course not. Being pro-life is a great campaign ideology for Republicans just as being pro-choice is a great campaign ideology for Democrats. What the Establishment knows is that Presidents have no power over Roe v. Wade, so it’s a non-issue to them. They look at a candidate’s relevant policies such as their tax plan, defense perspectives, and immigration proposals to determine whether or not they’re going to play a pro-Establishment role or anti-Establishment role. For Trump, the border issue is the only component of his policies that has kept him from being wholeheartedly embraced as the Establishment candidate. It’s not that they fear border control or touchback amnesty. They simply fear that he can’t win the general election because of it. If he was a little lighter on his immigration plan, he’d be their ideal candidate.
- Moderate Consensus-Building is Their Favorite Attribute: There’s a reason that those who rush to the “mushy middle” are the best Establishment politicians. Their willingness to be moderate means that they’re less likely to be ideologically sound at the core. The most misunderstood part of the Establishment mentality is that their agenda is not truly moderate. In many cases, it’s extreme on both ends. The omnibus bill is a perfect example. In it, out-of-control budgets for both left-wing and right-wing programs were extended or expanded. This is the single most important binding force between Republicans and Democrats in the Establishment. The left wants to spend money on their issues. The right wants to spend money on their issues. The binding force is the shared goal of expanding the government so they can get their ways. For both sides to win requires humongous omnibus bills that fund all of the spending that both sides want. This more than anything else is why the country is in the declining shape that it’s in.
Now that we have the four Establishment criteria, let’s see whether or not Trump fits that mold. We know that Trump is the dealmaker that the Establishment loves. We know that he doesn’t need money and even if a candidate does need money, the Establishment rarely (if ever) uses it as a control factor over a President. Those are the two blatant calling cards for Trump’s presence within the Establishment.
The third is trickier. We already discussed that the Establishment worries about Trump’s conservative immigration proposal. It has been the stumbling block that has kept them from embracing him thus far, but that sentiment is changing in some wings of the Establishment for two reasons. First and most importantly, they’re realizing that building a wall and deporting people isn’t the general election boogeyman they have believed it to be for decades. Now that they have a major candidate running on that platform and not failing miserably as a result, they’re scratching their heads and conceding that it might not be as bad as they’ve always felt it would be. Second, many are starting to believe that it would never happen if he’s elected, anyway. This is something that an Executive Order cannot accomplish, so they’ll need Congress to fund it. They’re undecided whether or not they will, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. Point three was the stumbling block but it appears to be getting leveled off. Now, we can expect more Establishment endorsements as a result.
The last component is the most important. It’s the clearest indicator that Donald Trump is, indeed, already part of the Establishment and has been for decades. While conservatives view his rapid and constant changes in philosophies and ideologies as proof that he has no core, the Establishment views it as a bonus. He’s switched from Republican to Democrat and back again so many times on issues without repercussions that the Establishment is seeing a potential juggernaut in Trump IF he can win the general election (more on that shortly). The one calling card he’s leaving within every policy proposal he details is that he’s a big government moderate who will allow both sides to spend freely just like the last four Presidents did. This is imperative for garnering the Establishment’s support and it was best represented in a handful of sentences by, strangely enough, Jimmy Carter.
This is the conundrum. It’s the last piece of the puzzle that they’re trying to understand before making him the Establishment candidate. On one hand, he’s very clearly the least electable GOP candidate. On the other hand, he’s an enigma that has taken conventional wisdom about the primaries and mangled them into an unrecognizable pulp. Some are starting to believe that he’s more electable than conventional wisdom dictates.
Most still believe that it can’t happen. They listen to him, chat with the media, and meet with power brokers who mostly believe that he would be destroyed in the general election. That doesn’t mean that there’s a consensus, though, and we are going to see more Establishment types breaking ranks in the coming weeks to endorse him.
Their best bet from the Karl Rove strategy camp is to push for a contested convention. If Trump or Cruz can’t earn enough delegates to win the nomination outright, they believe that the delegates who are free to vote for whoever they want following the first failed ballot will shift to Rubio. It’s a terrible move, of course, because anyone other than the frontrunner who comes out of the convention as the nominee will be destroyed in the general election. That’s the state of affairs in American politics today.
The reason that Trump’s policies are becoming more liberal every day is to alert the Establishment that he’s secretly their guy. Expect more Chris Christies and Paul LePages to come out as moderate Establishment endorsements. By April, you’ll see Democrats endorsing him, at which point his transformation back to a full-blown liberal will be complete.