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February 2, 2012 7:49 AM   Subscribe

When the media uses the phrase "GOP elite," to whom exactly are they referring?

As an individual who very much tries to stay on top of political news (specifically with respect to the current GOP Presidential campaign), I find it frustrating with how often the media uses the phrase "GOP elite" in a headline or elsewhere, as I can never exactly pinpoint to whom they are referring.

I imagine the "elite" in the GOP party are long-time serving Governors and House and Senate members, but I am also curious to know if the phrase "extends" out elsewhere -- perhaps to ex-members of congress? To those (?) who work with or within the Republican party but are not elected officials?

Bonus points if you can name drop (the elite from either party, excluding the White House, of course), and can perhaps touch on the relationship between the delegates that are awarded from the GOP Primaries/Caucuses, elected Congressional officials, and the "GOP elite."

Thanks very much MeFi!
posted by lobbyist to Law & Government (21 answers total)
 
Can you link to an example?
posted by amanda at 7:51 AM on February 2, 2012


Sure.

The phrase is used, it seems, everywhere.
posted by lobbyist at 7:55 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say they are the longtime moderate-to-right Republican organization (may or may not include current or former elected officials) who have been around since the Nixon administration. Wall Streeters and Main Streeters (such that there are any of the former these days), but not Tea Partyers. I won't name any names, but they're at the Capitol Hill Club (as you know), and the Democratic National Club, but also in towns and cities across the country.
posted by jgirl at 8:05 AM on February 2, 2012


It probably refers to top fundraisers and/or donors along with those behind the various SuperPACs.
posted by jquinby at 8:05 AM on February 2, 2012


Also to the intellectuals who write influential columns like George Will.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:06 AM on February 2, 2012


Oh, dear...it should read:

"... Republican organization people ..."

"... Main Streeters (such that there are any of the LATTER these days) ...

Geez...
posted by jgirl at 8:08 AM on February 2, 2012


Jonathan Bernstein has a quick rundown on the GOP "establishment" (which is often used interchangeably with "elite") here. And here's some more info from Nate Silver.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:08 AM on February 2, 2012


It's a speaker-dependent term: it will depend on who is saying it and in what context. The word "elite" has become so weirdly loaded in the U.S. that it's probably not being used as a compliment as much as it is a code-word for "people who think they know better than you" and in this case "people who think they know better than you what's good for the Republican party."

Stabbing at a definition of the "GOP elite", I'd say it's some cross-section of Republicans who are Senators, multi-term Representatives, pundits, RNC officials and spokespersons, state party officials, and former elected officials who continue to peddle their influence.

Also, eponysterical.
posted by gauche at 8:09 AM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually I think it is frequently and lazily used as a concept that may not always have much content, or that may not be particularly well thought through by whoever's using it. It's an all-too-useful way for a commentator to say "all the people with power in the party who don't want Newt Gingrich to win the nomination", or whatever the context requires.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:11 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a somewhat amorphous term, because the GOP establishment encompasses both what might be called "country-club Republicans", which includes the vestiges of the old Rockefeller Republicans, and what might be called the southern establishment in DC, epitomised by lobbying shops like BGR.

You're also pulling in some of the more prominent think-tanks and outlets that provide what is disparagingly known as "wingnut welfare" to large numbers of people who have never held public office (and would regard seeking election as a dilution of their power) but again, that's amorphous: Grover Norquist is undoubtedly "GOP elite", in the sense that he's a long-standing unelected power broker, but he's not exactly "establishment".
posted by holgate at 8:25 AM on February 2, 2012


The elite are those who either (a) have been elected to high office or (b) have been appointed to powerful positions within the party and/or the government. Media personalities on the right may also be included as part of the elite.

Elected officials who are part of the elite include:

House Speaker John Boehner
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Republican Whip John Kyl

There are a few other Republican leaders in the House who aren't as well-known but probably will be eventually. Here's a list of House leaders. Previous House and Senate leaders continue to hold sway, so you need to remember folks like Dick Armey and Tom Delay (although I suppose being convicted of felonies damages a pol's cred a bit).

Then you have the Old Guard. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld. (Almost) anyone who has served on a president's cabinet is included in the elite. Robert Gates, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzalez, Colin Powell, Tommy Thompson, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Chertoff, Tom Ridge. For Republicans, exclude people like the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Energy, and Education, as these are departments the Republicans don't think should exist at all.

It's also important to remember people who have held positions with the RNC, like Haley Barbour, and also governors and former governors like Barbour, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels and Rick Perry.

Finally, there are the pundits. Megyn Kelly may not hold much sway with ... anyone ... but there are certainly influential media personalities who have a lot of power in the Republican establishment: Limbaugh and Coulter and O'Reilly, for starters. A lot of ex-pols like Alfonse D'Amato and Sarah Palin (not to mention Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich) have also worked for Fox News as on-air personalities.

Or, you know. You could probably just look at Nate Silver's list.
posted by brina at 8:33 AM on February 2, 2012


I wouldn't leave donors out of the elite.
posted by Miko at 9:07 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A "party elite" (Republican or Democratic or, for that matter, Communist) tend to be the people who control the party's purse strings and determine its national platform (at least officially; this doesn't include lobbyists).
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:08 AM on February 2, 2012


Donors are not party elite unless they have some role that would officially give them governance. The key word here is "official."
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:08 AM on February 2, 2012


In other words, in this context, it's really not a word whose usage can be stretched without bounds.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:09 AM on February 2, 2012


Donors are not party elite unless they have some role that would officially give them governance. The key word here is "official."

Says who? I disagree. I'd argue there are many in the functional elite who have no official role in party management. If they are in an official role, they'd presumably be "party officers" or "party chairmen" or "leaders" or some such.

If you're arguing from a historical usage, do you have citations to support that usage?

The difficulty is that the term isn't used with specificity everywhere. It's used in a way analogous to "media elite."
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2012


To substatiate my point, here's a USA Today piece headlined "Party Elite Helping Insurgent Candidates." Who were the elite who were helping the candidates? Among them are Steve Forbes, Jeb Bush (not a party officeholder), Club for Growth, business and insurance PACs.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A great question, more complicated than it seems.

The nature of American political parties (how they work; relationships between officeholders, party functionaries, activists, candidates, donors, policy demanders, interest groups, etc.) has always been a lively subject of debate in political science.

A great study of this, contemporary and very focused on the nomination process, is The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller (U. Chicago, 2008). It reviews the literature, history, and recent election years -- great reading for 2012.
posted by lathrop at 10:47 AM on February 2, 2012


To keep it simple, I just think of people who write articles for the National Review.
posted by goethean at 10:56 AM on February 2, 2012


You can widen the circle to include individuals that have served as Cabinet members and in communication/strategy/policy roles that you still seeing commenting in the media.

They're not commenting because a reporter thinks its fun to ask them stuff. They're commenting because a PR agency is propping them up as an opinion leader.

James Baker was the long-time consigliere for the Bush clan. Ari Fleischer is still out there. On the other side, you get people like Paul Begala and Donna Brazile.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:48 AM on February 2, 2012


Another useful comment from political science....
posted by lathrop at 5:21 PM on February 2, 2012


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