Real estate mogul Donald Trump has been the front-runner for months, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who touts himself as a political outsider even though he is a sitting lawmaker. Cruz regularly refers to congressional leadership and other politicians as "the Washington cartel." Thune said he resents that characterization. "Well, I'm personally very offended to be called the establishment," he said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), after nearly two decades on Capitol Hill, has been called a lot of things, but Roll Call reported this week on the one label he considers "offensive."
Note, he's not just offended; he's very offended.
For those unfamiliar with Thune, let's note some of the basic details of his c.v. He's currently the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the #3 position in the GOP leadership. The South Dakota senator, in his 12th year in the chamber after three terms in the House, is also the chairman of the Commerce Committee and the former chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
I hate to break this to the senator, but it's hard to get more "establishment" than John Thune.
But the fact that the GOP lawmaker would make a point to distance himself from the "establishment'" he helps lead says a great deal about the state of Republican politics in 2016.
Traditionally, the party's inside-the-Beltway power players reveled in their status, confident about the role they played in guiding the GOP's direction and choosing its nominees.
The word "establishment" wasn't used much -- it was instead, simply, "the party" -- and when it was used, the word certainly wasn't an epithet to be avoided.
How much has the rise of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz influenced the state of the GOP? Enough to make prominent members of the Republican establishment pretend otherwise.