The Downfall of Establishment Politics

Richard Elliott, UMBC:

This election cycle has been unconventional, to say the least. A year ago, Hillary Clinton had a 45 point lead on her nearest competitor, Vice President Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders was an unknown socialist from Vermont who was polling at 4%. Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, had a narrow national lead over Jeb Bush. Donald Trump wasn’t even in the race. By mid-September, two men with no political experience (Trump and Carson) had about half of the national Republican vote and Sanders had halved Clinton’s lead. If you had asked most people with political savvy who the nominees would be as late as July, they would have likely said it was a foregone conclusion that Bush and Clinton would be it as they had both party support and unprecedented fundraising machines. But in this election, being branded as an “insider” or “establishment” candidate has been harmful, support from prominent figures has become toxic, and fundraising figures do not correlate with votes.


Endorsements are probably the clearest way to distinguish an “insider” from an “outsider.” For instance, Donald Trump had virtually no endorsements until his nomination appeared inevitable. He currently has the endorsement of 1 Senator (Jeff Sessions of Alabama), 4 Representatives (Chris Collins of New York, Duncan Hunter of California, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, and Tom Marino of Pennsylvania), and 4 governors (Chris Christie of New Jersey, Paul LePage of Maine, Rick Scott of Florida, and Ralph Torres of the Northern Mariana Islands). In fact, he had more endorsements from international political figures than he did of American ones until quite recently. He also has endorsements from numerous celebrities, from Tila Tequila to Mike Tyson to Dennis Rodman.  Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, received 6 endorsements from current and former Representatives and one from a former Cabinet official. Ben Carson, also an outsider by any standards, had only the endorsements of Maryland representative Andy Harris and former Michigan representative Kenny Bentivolio.

On the other hand, Jeb Bush had many. 2 former presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), 14 former governors, 14 current and former Senators, and over 20 Representatives. One interesting development in the race is that Tea Partier and self-branded outsider Ted Cruz is now being groomed as the establishment candidate to fight off Trump. He currently has the endorsement of 9 current and former Governors, 4 Senators, and 36 Representatives.

On the Democratic side, the divide is even larger. With the Democratic Party’s use of unpledged delegates, party support is essential for the nomination. These unpledged delegates, or superdelegates as they are often called, represent approximately ⅙ of all delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention. The concept of superdelegates was invented to prevent another incident to the 1972 nomination of George McGovern. Currently, Clinton has the support of nearly 70% of the superdelegates but they can change their vote at any time. Sanders has the support of a mere 20.5* DNC officials, 7 Representatives, 1 senator, and former DNC vice-chair Tulsi Gabbard. Clinton currently has the support of 10 distinguished party leaders, 16 governors, 39 senators, 166 Representatives, and 240 DNC officials.

Donation Sources

There is also an enormous difference in the way that insiders and outsiders have fundraised. Donald Trump contributed approximately $13,000,000 of his own funds for his campaign through the end of 2015, out of the $19,400,000 that his campaign had total. Almost ⅔ of his total campaign financing had been done by himself. Ben Carson also made enormous gains in his campaign, mainly through the power of grassroots support. In the time between March and July of last year, his campaign received over $10,000,000 in contributions in nearly 210,000 separate donations from over 150,000 people. Virtually all of Bernie Sanders donations have been from general members of the public; a record breaking 5,700,000 total contributions from nearly 2,000,000 individuals.  Ted Cruz has also raised over 60% of his $108,000,000 from public donations.

While not being on the same side of the political spectrum, all four candidates represent an interesting twist to campaigning and governance in general. Trump’s mostly self-funded campaign, Carson and Cruz’s surge of right-wing populist support, and Sander’s political revolution are a strong deviation from traditional Republican contributors such as Koch Industries and the Club For Growth and New Democrat’s coalition of donors from Wall Street, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. In fact, neither Trump nor Sanders even has a PAC. Clinton has raised millions of dollars from large-scale donors such as George Soros and S. Donald Sussman.  Jeb bush, Marco Rubio, and other establishment Republicans received millions of dollars in support from large donors also, such as Paul Singer, Sheldon Adelson, Norman Braman, and many more. As of February 9th, there are 87 individuals or groups who donated at least $1,000,000 to a candidate or candidates.

Vote to Endorsement/PAC Ratio

At the time of writing, Bernie Sanders has approximately 1,038 pledged delegates and Hillary Clinton has 1,266. For every endorsement received from superdelegates, Sanders has gotten 35.2 pledged delegates while Clinton has 2.7. Note that this argument is not to say that Clinton is more inefficient with voters. It simply shows that superdelegate support does not correlate directly with the will of the voters.

Clinton also has the backing of Priorities USA Action PAC, which has raised over $55,000,000. Her campaign, including both the campaign committee and outsider groups, has fundraised an impressive $223,000,000 and spent nearly $148,000,000. Sanders’ campaign committee has raised nearly $140,000,000 total and spent approximately $123,000,000.  Sanders campaign has spent approximately $118,500 per pledged delegate whereas Clinton’s campaign has spent about $116,900 per pledged delegate.

On the Republican side, the difference is even starker. Trump has only spent $35,000,000 compared to Cruz’s $91,000,000. Despite this, Trump has spent only $44,135 per pledged delegate while Cruz has spent a ludicrous $195,700 per pledged delegate. Jeb Bush’s failed campaign spent a staggering $137,000,000 yet only netted 4 pledged delegates: $34,250,000 per pledged delegate vote. Applying that mathematical logic to Trump would mean he would have barely one pledged delegate.

Trump’s bombastic campaign has made him anathema to both liberals and mainstream conservatives. He did not start getting endorsements from prominent conservatives until after he began winning. He was endorsed by Chris Christie in late February, after Trump had already won New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. The only major conservative figure to endorse Trump prior to his perceived invincibility was Sarah Palin, which happened before the Iowa caucuses. It can be stated that Trump’s success in this electoral race is occurring in spite of, or perhaps because of, opposition from virtually all other Republicans and will continue as the establishment Republicans coalesce behind Cruz, who has been described by Lindsey Graham as “poison” whereas Trump is “a gunshot to the head”.


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