In 1967, the now-gone National Observer took note of the overuse of the term "establishment" and wrote: "If someone wishes to complain about something but hasn't a very clear idea of what, all he needs do is blame the problem on the 'establishment' and people will sagely wag their heads." William Safire included that quote in his Political Dictionary, along with this one from Newsweek in 1987, referring to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush: "Bush's native political tribe — the Eastern-establishment wing of the GOP — is nearly extinct today."
(Nearly three decades later, the tribe lives on: The establishment label is weighing down Jeb Bush, son of one President Bush, brother of another and grandson of a senator.)
GOP pollster David Winston says the word establishment is being redefined in this campaign as a synonym for the status quo, which carries heavy baggage in a time of voter discontent.
Within the Republican Party, Winston says, the anti-establishment camp is divided between candidates who want to work within the existing system to change things (Bush, Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, etc.) and those who want to completely disregard it (Trump, Cruz).
"There are some folks who are trying to create a distinction here that Washington is so broken that you just have to go beyond it and not deal with the consequences," says Winston.
Democratic pollster Peter Hart, for his part, sees the anti-establishment sentiment playing out as anger against the "power elite." Voters are "looking for candidates who represent an ability and a willingness to stand up to those who control our lives," he says.And Dan Balz ties this sentiment back to the data on the middle class:
Trump’s campaign slogan is not just “Make America Great” but “Make America Great Again.” He summons a time when the middle class was prosperous and incomes were rising. This was a time when the lack of a college degree was not the impediment to a more economically secure life that it has become — and a time when white people made up a higher share of the population.
Whatever happens to Trump’s candidacy over the coming months, the conditions that have helped make him the front-runner for the GOP nomination will still exist, a focal point in a divisive debate about the future of the country.