John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Wither the Establishment

Posted on March 3, 2020
So, what happened to the Establishment, anyway?

Despite former Vice President Joe Biden’s large victory in South Carolina, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is poised to win big on Super Tuesday. It’s hard to see how his momentum slows down.

He is the one who is despised by the Establishment. Just like Donald Trump. And we know how that worked in the last presidential election.

The Establishment, as a concept, was popularized in the 1950s by a British social critic Henry Fairlie, who described it “as the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised.”

The Bushes are the Establishment. The Clintons and the Obamas are too, although they weren’t born into it.

In modern-day Washington, the Establishment is the inner circle of pundits, campaign consultants, C-suite executive wannabes, and those folks who show up on those huge CNN panels at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. The Establishment hosts fancy parties in huge Kalorama mansions, (it used to be in Georgetown), where everybody trades gossip and wonders nervously about little people in flyover country.

Most members of the House of Representatives can’t afford to be part of the Establishment. It costs too much money and it takes too much time. But the Senate is well-represented.

The Establishment used to have some sway in presidential elections. And if the Establishment’s candidate did not win, the Establishment found a way to make them welcome.

The notable exception to that rule was Richard Nixon. Despite being a senator and a vice president, Nixon was never accepted by the Establishment. They never tried to co-opt him either. And they successfully took him out. He resigned in disgrace.

Then there is Donald Trump. He will never resign in disgrace.

Trump has turned the tables on the Establishment. He used them and their disgust with him to great effect. He has worn their derision with great pride. It makes him a hero in fly-over country.

Trump doesn’t play the game the way the game is supposed to be played. He doesn’t use consultants. He doesn’t read briefing books. He doesn’t message test with pollsters.

He also doesn’t believe in endless wars, which is why he just cut a deal with the Taliban. The Establishment doesn’t like that deal. But my guess is the American people are fine with it. Bringing our troops home is always a politically popular decision.

The Establishment is trying to take out Bernie Sanders, largely the same way it tried to take out Donald Trump.

Sanders will get killed in the general election, they argue. Sanders and his ideas are dangerous, they plead. Sanders doesn’t have the right temperament, he is not a pleasant person and nobody likes him (that is Hillary Clinton’s argument).

I don’t know if Bernie will win the nomination or not. But it seems to me that electability is never a great argument, especially in the era of Trump.

Not one Washington consultant who regularly appears on CNN or MSNBC thought that Donald Trump had a chance to win in 2016, but they were wrong. So who knows if Bernie can or can’t win? That’s why we have elections.

So how did the Establishment lose credibility with the voters?

Part of it is a hangover from the 2008 financial crisis. Part of it is the disillusionment from the Iraq War. Part of it is the great wealth gap between the Acela corridor and the rest of the country. Part of it is the smug virtue signaling that has become a daily feature of the Establishment’s commentariat.

Most voters are tired of getting lectured to by Harvard-trained pinheads who wear fashion-designer eyeglasses. They will vote for whoever those pinheads don’t like. It’s their way of sticking it to the man.

In 2016, for Republicans it was Trump. Today, for the Democrats, it’s Bernie.

The Establishment can’t do much about it. Try as they might.