The Establishment Must Go: A Response
Last week, my esteemed colleague Cole Horton wrote an article which defended the Republican political establishment against popular dissatisfaction reflected in the media, talk radio, and the polls. While his piece was well-constructed and argued, I believe that Mr. Horton fundamentally misunderstands the grievances that many Americans such as myself hold against the Republican establishment.
Mr. Horton seems to believe that voter dissatisfaction from the establishment stems from two primary causes. The first of these is the fact that voters have “unrealistic” expectations specifically on the issues of repealing Obamacare and limiting abortion. The second cause is that some voters seem to simply want a candidate to “wreak havoc” with the current processes in our government. Both of these, he claims, are exacerbated by the rhetoric of anti-establishment candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.
Mr. Horton, therefore, seems to believe that the establishment dissatisfaction is the result of policy differences between voters and Republican Party and Congressional leaders. Maybe the divide within the Republican Party started out with policy disagreements, but we are way past that point. It is not policy, but the culture, the mentality, and the sheer arrogance of the political establishment which have permanently driven a wedge between myself and Republican Party leaders.
Let me explain what I mean by our differences being a “cultural” issue. Frankly, I do not believe that there is currently a place for me within the mainstream Republican Party. To be sure, 80–90% of my views coincide with those espoused by Republican leaders and policies that have been pushed through Congress. But membership in a political party is not simply about having the same opinion as the person sitting beside you. You can only be part of a political party if you shape the direction of that party, if party officials and leaders create a forum where your ideas are heard and valued.
Republican leaders claim that the party is exactly that, an open forum where conservative of various perspectives can come together and advance conservative causes. Party officials and representatives even go through the façade of holding caucuses and town hall conventions to propagate the facade that we the people have a voice in the Republican Party. But the actions of the Republican establishment tells a far different story.
There are many, many examples of disdainful and flat-out disrespectful treatment from the Republican establishment of both conservative representatives and citizens themselves. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some such instances:
· John McCain stated in July that Donald Trump’s “fired up the crazies” at his immigration rally in Phoenix
· John Boehner claimed that conservative groups “have lost all credibility” following the partial government shutdown in 2013
· John Boehner punished approximately 30 House Republicans in June for opposing his agenda by removing them from committee leadership positions and banning them from certain fundraising efforts.
· Thad Cochran recruited black Democrat voters win his primary in 2014 by claiming that challenger Chris McDaniel wanted to suppress minority votes
Well, I never realized that I was a “crazy” simply for opposing amnesty and wanting our government to follow the law and secure the border.
Of course, establishment supporters would probably respond by pulling up a list of similar Tae Party quotes about the current Republican leadership. However, Tea Party quotes are different because they targeted elected leaders. As I have shown, the quotes from the establishment do not just target representative but go out of the way to insult American citizens. In my opinion, it is one thing for elected politicians to insult one another, but it is quite another to insult the very people who were responsible for your election.
The worst part about the Republican establishment has to be their cheer hypocrisy. On one hand, they want to purge the party of its conservatives; and on the next day, they have the audacity to ask these same people for donations.
To that end, when Republican candidates hit the campaign trail during primaries, they tend to embrace the exact conservative rhetoric that they decry once elected. Almost every Republican has talked about issues such as Obamacare, illegal immigration, and government spending while campaigning. But these words were meaningless as a majority of Republicans voted to raise the debt limit countless times, fund Obamacare, fund Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty, and increase government spending without a second thought.
Further, my frustration with the establishment extends beyond their actions to the culture in which our representatives live. Has you ever wondered why establishment Republicans will fight so hard for a few certain issues while refusing to fight for their campaign issues? In my view, this occurs because of the influence of business and special interest groups over establishment Republicans. In an hour-long speech last month, Ted Cruz explained in detail exactly why Republicans are unwilling to stand up on issues so important to their voters.
As an example, consider two relatively unrelated funding issues, the Export-Import Bank and Planned Parenthood. A majority of Republicans, including establishment Republicans, have talked on and on about the need to defund Planned Parenthood. A large majority of GOP voters believe that Planned Parenthood should be defunded, and only 18% of Republicans have a positive view of Planned Parenthood. And yet, Mitch McConnell concluded quickly that the Senate would not vote to defund Planned Parenthood because, in his words, “We just don’t have the votes to get the outcome that we’d like.” In other words, despite the promises to Republican voters, McConnell surrendered before he even attempted to actually represent his constituents.
Yet on the other hand, Mitch McConnell made an attempt to clear all hurdles to restart the expired Export-Import Bank charter. It is worth noting that the Bank’s charter had already expired, and that McConnell himself had voted against the bank in the past. Voters are largely ignorant about the bank, but many establishment Republicans promised to curtail spending and the size of government during their campaigns. According to Ted Cruz and others, Mitch McConnell even made a promise to Republican senators that he would not reauthorize the Bank. And yet, at the first chance that he could, McConnell betrayed his word to bring back a worthless and meaningless program.
Now why would Mitch McConnell be so bound and determined to fight for institution and go against his word to his constituents? Because major corporate donors support the bank. GE, Boeing, and many other industrial companies have made public comments proclaiming doom and gloom if the bank’s charter were to expire. Therefore, they, and their respective lobby groups, threw tons of money at various representative and Senators, and all of a sudden, there becomes a path to reauthorize the bank.
Over and over again, we have seen the establishment continue to ignore the priorities for which they were elected in favor of the policies advanced by special interests. To be frank, the Republican establishment would rather cozy up to special interest than to their constituents. Establishment Republicans don’t give a damn about the voters who elect them; in fact, many view elections as a necessary nuisance to their fundraising efforts.
This is why so many establishment Republicans don’t even live in their districts, or hardly ever visit their home constituencies. They believe that they are holier than thou because they are serving the “public interest.” Why should you visit a town hall in your district when you could be courting Main and Wall Street billionaires to fund your next campaigns? Why would you worry about what your voters want when you dismiss them as extremists and crazies? When your corporate donors demand amnesty and comprehensive immigration reform, the clear choice for establishment Republicans is to follow the corporate wishes.
“Oh, but we’ve voted to repeal Obamacare over 40 times,” establishment leaders often say in defending their record. Yes, but as Ted Cruz says in his speech, these votes are meaningless because they either occur in a context where they will not pass or they zero chance at ever becoming to reality. These “show votes” are nothing more talking points that representatives can use while they are pretending to be conservative during primary season. Where were all of these representatives when Ted Cruz and Mike Lee attempted to defund Obamacare before it was implemented, after which point, stopping the law would be next to impossible? They were too busy colluding with the Democrats about how to end the standoff and fund every section of the law that they had sworn to stop at all costs. What of the promises made to conservatives? As Marie Antoinette would say, “let them eat cake.”
To return to Mr. Horton’s points, the exact problem with the establishment is that they know how to govern. They have become so engrained in the system that I have described that they cannot even see their errors. They are so accustomed to thumbing their nose at the voter that they cannot possibly respond to voters in a fashion that we would expect. When they see the tea Party and other conservative groups, they see a challenge to their power and lifestyle that they’ve develop in Washington. There is a reason that traffic jams, root canals, and cockroaches are all more popular than Congress.
Is it so detrimental to expect our Party to respect the views of all constituent voters? Is it so unrealistic to expect our representatives to actually fight for the issues that they say they will fight over? Is it so difficult to expect our representatives to respond to the American people and not corporations?
To be sure, we may not have the votes to win every single issue, but establishment Republicans cannot honestly look the American people in the eye and claim that they did “whatever they could” to win. They would rather surrender, and save face to the corporate world, than take a stand on the most important issues for we the people.
If we expect to see a change in Washington, we cannot simply “elect more Republicans,” as the establishment would say, and expect any change whatsoever. Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency for most of George W. Bush’s term, and yet we still expanded the government and spent more than any previous administration in history.
If we want to see a change to the status quo in Washington, the establishment must go.
Disclaimer: Mike McVea (COL, ’17) is a member of the Georgetown University College Republicans.