In politics, especially during the 2016 election, being a part of the “establishment” meant that you were a cancer to all that is progress. Bernie Sanders successfully tagged Hillary Clinton as establishment. Jeb Bush begrudgingly accepted the label. It was a one-shot/one-kill attempt at categorizing someone who has played in the political pool for so long that their skin became wrinkled with the influence of lobbyists, their hair bleached by the allure of big donors. Allegedly.

Donald Trump, who never held elected office but has been prominent in politics most of his public life as a donor or a self-styled/funded lobbyist, ran the ultimate anti-establishment campaign. He managed to convince millions of unwavering supporters that he was the answer to all that was not progressing in our nation’s capital. He, and he alone, could fix what was supposedly broken.

Never mind that he ended up endorsing Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte, all “establishment” fixtures in their own right, for their respective 2016 races. That action alone should have eliminated any thought of Donald Trump somehow being outside of the establishment bubble. No, the real establishment move occurred one month earlier when Trump chose Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana and long-time politician, as his running mate.

Vice President Pence, age 57, has been in politics since his teenage years, when he identified as a Democrat, volunteered for his local county Democrat party, and voted for Jimmy Carter for President. As he matured in his person and his faith, his views became more conservative. He ran, unsuccessfully, as a Republican for Congress twice, in 1988 and 1990. In 1991 he became president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a freedom-leaning “think-tank” focused on state and municipal issues. From 1993 – 1999, he hosted a daily Rush Limbaugh-style talk radio show, as well as a weekend political talk show.

Mike Pence finally ran a successful campaign for the House of Representatives in 2000 and was re-elected four times with comfortable margins. Within that time, he moved up the party leadership, eventually challenging but losing to John Boehner in a bid to be minority leader of the chamber. Pence was elected as Republican Conference Chairman in 2009, the third-highest ranking Republican leadership position. After 12 years in the House, Pence successfully ran for Governor of Indiana where he remained until his selection for Vice President.

By all measures, Mike Pence IS an establishment Republican. He has been involved in policy and politics his entire life, is well-known throughout congressional and gubernatorial channels as a leader, a policy wonk, and someone who knows how to get things done. He was even named by Esquire Magazine as one of the ten best members of Congress in 2008. Donald Trump chose his Vice President well, there is no doubt about that. He chose him FOR his establishment credentials, not in spite of them.

Other candidates across the nation have attempted to glean some of the Trump magic for themselves, going after what they call “establishment” Republicans with rhetoric reminiscent to, and sometimes much worse than, what Donald Trump ever used. Paul Nehlen of Wisconsin tried in 2016, and failed miserably, to paint his primary opponent, Paul Ryan, as the pit of the establishment. Nehlen lost by about 70 points. Here in Virginia, Trump wanna-be Corey Stewart continues to fall in poll after poll as he uses every derogatory term he can to describe his opponent, Ed Gillespie, whose conservative credentials and career path nearly mirror those of his good friend, Mike Pence.

The lesson Nehlen and Stewart could learn from Trump is that Trump wasn’t really after the establishment. Trump understood that the establishment is what actually gets things done in government. That’s why he endorsed who he endorsed. That’s why he chose Mike Pence as VP. That’s why he’s attacking the Freedom Caucus now.

Be careful who you try to disparage with the term “establishment.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • John Massoud

    Rick. Establishment means different things to different people. Now I’ll grant you, the term gets tossed around a bit too much. Mike Pence took on his party when it came to No Child Left Behind – and took on his party leaders. He also took on his party leaders when it came to TARP. So we really can not call Pence an “establishment figure”. Even though you are correct that Pence has been a long term fixture in Indiana and Washington DC politics.

    It would be better if we cut back on the term “establishment” a bit. But there are some people who do deserve that moniker. So let’s not totally get rid of the term.