OP-Ed by Jay McConville : Establishment Is Not A Four Letter Word


Against my better judgment, and against my wife’s continued advice, I posted the following comment on Facebook this week. The post received a good bit of attention, and I’m pleased to be asked, in this my first blog post, to explain what I meant. Here is what I wrote:

“OK, I’m officially done with term “establishment” and “insider” when it comes to politics. We actually DO need people to work, serve on committees, and take leadership roles. Now some (who don’t do those things) think they are clever to label these active volunteers, who then run for office, as “establishment” or “insiders.” It’s a weak, pointless, empty, illogical criticism. If you can’t argue the issues, then I guess name-calling will just have to do. That is all.”

Having served in the military my start in politics was a little delayed. Once a civilian, I started doing little tasks to help the GOP here in Mt. Vernon. Then in 2008, dismayed with the direction that our country was going, I upped my game and ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 44th District. I lost, but I think I moved our shared Republican perspective a little down the field. Following that experience I wanted to be more involved, and frankly to pay back the many people who had helped me during my campaign, so I volunteered to serve two years as the Vice Chairman for Budget and Finance for the FCRC, working under the dedicated and talented Anthony Bedell. I was then honored to be elected as Chairman, and served two eventful years, being then succeeded by the able and admirable Matt Ames. It was a pretty quick move from outsider to part of the “establishment.”

During this time I met many elected officials, party officials and great volunteers, people who give their time, their talents, their money, their energy and their total dedication to trying to win in the never-ending argument that is politics. I did not agree with all of them on every issue, some I agreed with less, some more. The vast majority, however, cared about their country and their community, and they did the work that must be done if we are ever to correct our nation’s course.

And thus the reason for my post. I fear that the indiscriminate and thoughtless use of this term “establishment” or “insider” as an accusation against these good people hurts our party, making it more difficult to find volunteers, build a high-performing party team, leverage experienced people, and win elections.  I understand it may be fashionable, and it may even be an effective way to win a nomination. But it is not helpful.

Is someone “establishment” just because they’ve spent years working for the party? Or because they happen to know leaders in the party? Or because they understand the policies and procedures of the party? Or because they are able to garner endorsements, should they decide to run, from other people in the party who know and appreciate the work they have done? In a way I guess they are. But someone please explain to me why that is a bad thing.

We won’t win elections if people don’t lead, serve on committees, know the party processes, run for office and do the work. It should not be a badge of honor to have not done these things. It should not be a mark of dishonor to have done so.

It is great that we have a renewed activist spirit in our Republican Party. I was, and remain, inspired by that spirit. It is also great that we hold our leaders accountable for what they do once elected. I absolutely support party nomination processes as the way to get us the best candidates. Sometimes an incumbent will lose in this process, and honestly that is ok. But people should work to understand the process, and not, based on misinformation or ignorance of the procedures, attack anyone who has actually done the work as “establishment.”

There is a great deal of suspicion about back-room deals and “picking” of candidates and the like by people who are outside the party looking in. Those suspicions are unfounded. There is no reason to be outside looking in! For gosh sake, come on in!

There are well-defined and open processes for influencing the party, choosing candidates, and running the organizations that support our efforts. All you have to do is come on out, volunteer, do the work, understand the rules and procedures and participate. If you don’t like what you see, then run for Magisterial District Chair, State Central, or County Chair, or Congressional District Chair, or Congress or whatever. There is no guarantee that you will win, or that your opinions will prevail. But they might. That won’t make you “establishment” – it will make you a teammate.

If you don’t like a candidate, party official, or policy, that’s fine. Just say why, factually, respectfully, constructively. Yelling “establishment” is nothing but empty sloganeering. How can that possibly help?

So let us not use “establishment” or “insider” as an attack. Let us instead build, improve and expand the party, by making it honorable to serve in it. Let us then openly and respectfully discuss policy positions and candidate qualifications, select the best candidate for the job, and the time, in open and vibrant processes, and get to work winning elections and saving America.

That is all.

Jay McConville Former Chair of the Fairfax County Republican Committee 


12 thoughts on “OP-Ed by Jay McConville : Establishment Is Not A Four Letter Word

  1. A very high minded pitch but pretty sure your definition of establishment is NOT the terminology associated with its usage today by many grass roots voters in reference to long serving corporate directed Republican elected officials completely out of touch with day to day working class and middle class values and issues. Straw men don’t generally resolve real issues.

  2. Mr. Wood – My point is: “If you don’t like a candidate, party official, or policy, that’s fine. Just say why, factually, respectfully, constructively. Yelling “establishment” is nothing but empty sloganeering. How can that possibly help?”

  3. This is an excellent op-ed. These things have desperately need to be said for the past few years, but few have had the guts to say them because calling out the substance-less “establishment” hunters causes them to turn their hate on whoever calls them out.

    I do take issue with one sentence, though: “I absolutely support party nomination processes as the way to get us the best candidates.” There’s no explanation here of why party nomination processes would get us the “best” candidates. What is quite obvious from the past few years is that party nomination processes – particularly conventions and mass meetings, fester insider deals, exclusionary tactics, bring out the worst behavior from all sides, and result in nominees that are dragged down by the hard feelings engendered. It is ironic that the same people who complain so bitterly about “insiders” who “control” the party are the very ones who have pushed for these methods that are often unfair and insider-controlled, and then complain bitterly when they don’t get the outcome they expected.

    Perhaps you were referring to a “firehouse primary,” which isn’t nearly so manipulable. I think the pros and cons of a firehouse primary vs. state-run primary depend on a lot of case-specific factors. A state-run primary has the benefit of not costing the local committees thousands of dollars to run (which many have a hard time raising), of providing for absentee voting, and of generating larger lists of GOP-leaning voters. However, various circumstances can make a firehouse primary nevertheless a better choice. Either way, the candidates have to run primary campaigns that are good relevant practice for the general election, and “party insiders” have very little sway over the outcome.

    I would expect anyone of goodwill who is concerned about insider/establishment influence could see the logic that a primary of some sort is going to be more empowering to the grassroots than a convention or mass meeting. And look to the real example of David Brat besting Eric Cantor in a primary, rather than the hoary bogeyman story that Democrats sway the outcome of our primaries but there’s some kind of political garlic that prevents them from infiltrating our conventions or mass meetings.

  4. thank you for this post. I see on Facebook & blogs often the complaint that someone is “establishment”. sometimes that person holds elected office (in the same party as the complainers). but many times, the horrid “establishment” persons are those who work like dogs to get candidates elected. but even more horrible than working like dogs is actually having extra money to contribute to a candidate or unit or PAC. that person is corporate “establishment”, the lowest form of “establishment”.

  5. Great post! This needed to be said many times over. And it doesn’t just go for the term “establishment.” The truth is conservatives have become our own worst enemies, picking apart others who agree with us 90% of the time rather than embracing them as allies and working together. This sort of “come work together” message NEEDS to spread.

    Thanks Jay!

  6. It’s rather like pornography. We know establishment when we see it. We also know who the grassroots are and the difference between the two. Eric Cantor and Dave Brat are probably the easiest to identify.

  7. I would tend to agree with Jay McC’ gist. It is the specific terms he uses that are objectionable. They are not objectionable on their own. It is in the conflation that meanings get mixed, the direction is lost, and political activists get a bad name!

    To me, “Establishment” means big government. The base of the GOP obviously wants smaller government. It is in their fruits that you will know them. The current trends in the legislatures of all levels is to expand the law. If ignorance of the law is to be no excuse, the law must be simple enough to understand. As any “lawyer” how many laws there are, and you have a guaranteed stump. God gave us ten. Why do we keep electing people who do nothing but grow government!

    On the other hand, rules shape the organization. Written rules are the fairest way to run any activity. It does not matter what process a “unit” uses to nominate a candidate, as long as the rules are established in advance. Understanding the rules better gives one an advantage.

    Then there is the work to be done. The current mess has been accumulating almost since day one. Political power is an obvious advantage. Transparency allows the process to be examined post jure. But the race is won in the running. Perception is a big part of reality in politics. The selection process has to end somewhere, so the governing can begin. That is the hardest rule, and it cannot be broken.

    Conventions and mass meetings are no more manipulatable than primaries. In fact, when one considers that the Commonwealth will not consider party affiliation beyond an instaneous proclaimation, primaries are by far the more manipulated, and least transparent method of selection. Primaries last all day. The better one can track people, the more prepared one is to put forth a reactive effort. As well, unless there is a runoff provision, a plurality wins in a primary. Primaries tend to thwart majority rule.

    So when one builds a definition of Establishment that does not mean big government, it should raise a flag. When one chides a base for not getting involved, rather than desiress of removing laws, agencies, and money from government, another flag should go up. But worse, when one disengages from the process when the crowd goes in another direction, flags are moot. The year that Babe Ruth lead the league with 62 home runs, he also lead the league with 80 strike outs. Quitters never win.

    It is hard to look people who have dedicated full time effort in the eye, and tell them their services are no longer needed. It is a little easier to propose removal or admendments to laws on the books. By far, the easiest thing to do is find a niche that has not been addressed, and offer a shiney new package. This is how we have gotten into our current mess.

    The most important work is to recognize the taste of the fruit. Next is to learn the rules. Then you must exercise the process. It is hard. We will lose some. We have to keep working. If you don’t do the voting homework, and cast an informed vote, don’t complain. Keep at it. You will build knowledge about the rules, and the arena, IF you don’t quit! The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.

    Jay obviously has unity on his mind. If he meant to block the term “Establishment” from describing big Government RINOs, he is perpetuating the disdain of politicians. If he meant to for us all to work together, we welcome his help the next time we nominate a Cuccinelli, Jackson, Obenshain ticket.
    As always, the readers will decide!

  8. Bill, I challenge you to find many who worked harder for Cucinelli, Jackson and Obenshain than I did…well, there were certainly some, but no one could seriously question whether I was all in. I mean a content free slur used to replace serious and constructive argument – as you say. Think someone is wrong on policy or action, say so….don’t just ignorantly run around yelling “establishment!” – that was my point.

  9. Jay –

    Thanks for your effort in support of liberty, and constructive discussion.

    Labels are useful buckets. Some buckets have more in them, but one has to look in the bucket to see. Since labels are an efficiency mechanism, time is rarely available to drill down. To move forward, I will join you in discouragement of ignorant yelling!

    Thanks also for writing!

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