One of the key messages of the Tea Party movement is its anti-establishment viewpoint. As the Tea Party is certainly acknowledged to be a vocal part of the fiscally conservative Republican base, its support of a candidate will impact the primary race.

Let’s begin by level-setting what the ‘establishment’ is: “An order of society as [in] a group of social, economic, and political leaders who form a ruling class (as of a nation)”, or “a controlling group”.

As there has recently been significant banter around amongst the candidates as to who is an ‘establishment candidate’, let’s examine this by quantifying the time each candidate spent as part of the elected political ruling class, particularly of the nation, to see who is truly ‘establishment’ and if the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party supports this ideal.

Ron Paul: 21.8 years, US House Representatives 1976-1977, 1979-1985, 1997-Present

In what is likely a surprise to many, other than his most ardent supporters, the man perhaps considered the most anti-establishment of them all, Ron Paul, has held federal office longer than any of the other candidates. Paul’s stances are generally acknowledged to be based upon his principles rather than following with the party line. He also seemingly has attempted to keep himself grounded, refusing to sign up for the federal pension plan and in his earlier days, returning to Texas to continue working as a doctor when not required in Washington. So despite Paul’s length of time in Washington, it is difficult to argue that he is part of the establishment. However, his long tenure in the House of Representatives is undeniable. Certainly many career Democratic politicians also believe they must stay in office for over two decades to continue fighting for what they believe in as well.

Newt Gingrich: 20 years, US House of Representatives 1979-1999

There is no better example of the “establishment” than Newt Gingrich. His role in bringing together the Republican Party as the ruling class through the Contract with America and in his role as Speaker of the House is legendary. Perhaps no other politician has ever made the individual races for the House of Representatives–don’t forget that all 435 seats are up for re-election every two years–a common, national cause, or an “order of society” created to “form the ruling class”. However, his entire tenure in federal office was also marked by what at the time was the largest expansion of spending and deficits in federal government history, from 1979-1999. Additionally, recall that per the US Constitution, all spending bills must start in the House of Representatives. Therefore, as Speaker, Gingrich certainly had a significant impact on the federal government’s spending.

Rick Santorum: 16 years, US House Representatives, US Senate 1991-2007

Compared to Gingrich, Rick Santorum was much less heralded in office. That being the case, it likely surprises many that he spent 16 years in Washington, usually going along with the big spending Republicans, as the annual government expansion continued after Gingrich left office. Santorum could fairly be classified as a typical career politician, as he started in the House of Representatives in 1991 at the age of 32 then “moved up” to the Senate in 1996. In 2006 he lost his third Senate reelection bid by a whopping 17.4 percent, or about 700,000 votes. He also endorsed fellow Republican Arlen Specter in his short-lived candidacy for the Presidency in 1996, move that certainly shows he put party over principle.

Rick Perry: 0 years federal office, 27 years, Texas House of Representatives, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Texas Lt. Governor, Texas Governor 1985-Present

Despite not having held federal office, Rick Perry is a definition of a career politician, at one time switching parties and having spent the past 27 years of his life in one elected office or another. He seems to be political opportunist who appears to have entered the presidential race only upon the urging of several evangelical leaders who did not see a prominent evangelical Christian in the field, as they had with George W. Bush.

Jon Huntsman: 0 years federal office, 4.6 years Utah Governor 2005-2009

Jon Huntsman was Ambassador to Singapore and China, but that is closer to working for the state department than being in elected office. He was not making policy decisions to please the masses in these roles, which often leads to bad policy. He has never been elected to or run for a federal office. He won the governorship of Utah by a convincing 58 percent margin the first time and was reelected by a dominating 77.7 percent of the vote, in arguably one of the most conservative states in the union despite being an avowed moderate.

Mitt Romney: 0 years federal office, 4 years Massachusetts Governor 2003-2007

Gingrich has recently enjoyed taking shots at Romney, claiming he would have been a career politician had he beaten Teddy Kennedy in 1994. Sure, he could have been. He could have also owned a monkey farm. We just don’t know. At the same time, he might have only remained for one term, as he did in the governorship. Romney could have also moved to a state where he could more easily be elected as a Republican, certainly he could have afforded to do, but did not. It is simply impossible to read someone’s mind, which is also why so many people wonder what Romney truly believes due to his public shifting of positions through the years, but what we do know as fact is Mitt Romney has spent less time in elected office than any other Presidential candidate, including no time whatsoever in a federal office.

From a quantitative perspective, it is clear who is not part of the establishment: Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Each has the least time spent in elected office, including not one day in national office. However, they, like all the other candidates have positions or past positions that will not resonate with Republicans or the Tea Party faction. Furthermore, the two non-establishment candidates are widely considered to be the most moderate of the field, which only causes further consternation for the Tea Party. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a candidate that matches all of a voter’s positions. Rather, the electorate is left to choose who they trust most and who most closely aligns with their opinions, assuming, of course, they actually believe what the candidates say. But when it comes to who is “establishment” and who is not, by definition, it is clear. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney are the only non-establishment candidates. If such candidates truly one of the most important issues to the Tea Party, we would see more support from it. However, it seems the Tea Party does not know what it stands for and may be dead.

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