WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Republican presidential candidates in the current election cycle have grown fond of lambasting the "establishment." Time and time again in campaign speeches, in interviews, in fundraising emails to their supporters, the 2016 White House hopefuls have railed against their colleagues or the Republican National Committee for belonging to the so-called establishment.
But Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who places himself outside of the "establishment," says the word is being used so broadly and so frequently that it no longer carries much meaning.
"I think probably everyone in this room would embrace the idea that we're anti-establishment, but we should know what that means," Sasse on Friday told a roomful of GOP donors at the conservative super PAC Club for Growth's annual Winter Economic Conference.
"The way that the word establishment is being used right now is so vacuous that it's essentially meaningless," he said.
For example, "If you say that National Review and the conservative thought leaders, the people who want to fight for debating about what it should mean to hold position X,Y or Z on policy, and business interests organized for crony capitalism mean the same thing, that they're both "establishment" because they have offices in Washington, D.C., then I think the word establishment is meaningless."
Sasse, who's recently taken on Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a candidate whose campaign relies heavily on an anti-establishment message, says that while the definition of "establishment" has been lost in the mix, the epithet itself represents something that certainly exists in politics.
"I think the establishment is this: It's those vested interests in Washington, D.C., that think the stability and preservation of Washington, D.C., should be the first priority, and what's good for the American people, what's good for middle-class families across the country is sort of a down-stream lower priority," he said. "I think that's an accurate way to discuss what's wrong with the establishment."
The first-term senator continued, charging that the establishment is a political class that "cares about its own self-preservation and not about servant leadership for the good of creating a framework for ordered liberty that's passed on to the next generation." To substantiate his own definition, he pointed out that "six of the richest counties in America right now are suburbs of Washington, D.C."
"Think about that," Sasse told conference attendees. "This experiment's been going on for about 240 years [and] there's never been anything like that before. There is a growth in an industry in America and it is lobbying... A river of money flows to Washington."
"So we should be anti-establishment, but we have to know what it means," he reaffirmed. "It's not about just being against what's wrong with the establishment, we have to be for something that's better."