This is the first of a series inspired by the state of the Republican Party of Virginia, which appears to be in the middle of a battle royale between the establishment and the outsiders. The various district conventions have led to many changes, and angry words. It has, however, provided a way to differentiate between the two. Part 1 will explain the general characteristics of an “establishment” Republican.
It will surprise many when I say this, but the establishment is not defined by issues. Rather, it is various personality traits that come to the core. They are as follows.
Personal loyalty: Establishment Republicans tend to value personal bonds very highly. Friends matter to them, especially friendships made during a particular campaign or issue battle (perhaps when both were outsiders). This does not mean friendship trumps issues necessarily (although usually that conflict doesn’t come up), but it does mean that those friendships will be more important than whatever a newcomer has to offer.
Experience: Establishment Republicans tend to appreciate those who have already been “in the arena.” First, because it establishes a political bond in world where such things are rare. Secondly, they likely learned the same lessons while in politics, and thus reinforce each other’s thinking. Finally, and most importantly, experienced politicians and activists tend to be better at avoiding mistakes that novices make.
Finally, political efficiency: this tends to be seen as “pragmatism” or “electability,” but neither really match up to what Establishment Republicans are thinking. Given their experience, these people understand the importance of political capital, and are less willing to spend it needlessly (as they see it). Resources plowed into an unwinnable race or issue campaign can be enough to turn a tide elsewhere. The larger picture is key to them.
Of course, with these traits cone weaknesses. The emphasis on personal relationships can lead to collectivism; the experience emphasis can create a feedback loop focused on “the last war;” and these factors can lead to a misread of what is a decent investment of political capital. Still, trust, experience, and political wisdom count.
Notice I haven’t discussed ideas. That’s for a reason. The Establishment isn’t allergic to ideas; it’s just not what drives them as a group. When the Establishment acts as such (or a large chunk of it), it assumes that the issues are largely settled or agreed.
In short, the Establishment focuses on how
campaigns are run, not why.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift