When Donald Trump says he is running against the Washington establishment — the news media and consultant-lobbyist class — the battle lines have been crystal-clear in recent days.
An anti-Trump letter signed by 50 national security Republicans provided a look inside at Washington’s shadow power structure — the largely unseen roster of former officials who have exchanged their government jobs for the capital’s lucrative corporate landscape.
They operate inside glass- and steel-paneled offices on such boulevards as Pennsylvania and Connecticut avenues, strategically surrounding the White House and Congress they seek to influence.
The Republicans who have signed the letter include consulting firm chief executive officers, law firm corporate advisers, lobbyists, investors and think tank analysts. They trade on their government experience and a $4 trillion federal budget to win clients and make lots of money. Among them: two former homeland security secretaries who opened consulting companies and a former director of national intelligence who joined a similar firm run by a chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
The rebellion of the Republican plutocrats against their party’s presidential nominee has prompted a counterattack from Trump supporters. They charge that the establishment fears this brash outsider will disrupt what has become a comfortable, wealthy and insulated lifestyle for hundreds of former officials, House members and senators of both parties.
Indeed, some of the Republicans who signed the letter are in business ventures with Democrats as they work to insert corporate favors into the federal budget or map out public relations campaigns.
“The national security establishment is scared of Trump, not necessarily because he’s largely unknown to them, but because he doesn’t care one bit who’s who,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and one of the first members of Congress to endorse the real estate mogul. “As president, Trump won’t care who did what, or who’s selling what weapons system, and that can have an effect on business and standing, and the defense establishment doesn’t like it.”
Newt Gingrich, as a former House speaker and Washington insider, is himself the establishment. Always a revolutionary at heart, he has broken with his brethren, wholeheartedly supports Mr. Trump and scolds fellow Republicans as “establishment deserters.”
“You’ve got a lot of people who belong to an older model of the Washington insiders system,” Mr. Gingrich said on Fox News. “Trump is a direct assault on that system. Part of their endgame is to feel morally virtuous, that they stuck with all of good, decent people who don’t use confusing language.
“Part of it is, I think, he genuinely scares them. Donald Trump is a genuine insurgent,” the former House speaker said. “He is a person who is from outside. He has never been part of the system. He represents new networks of power. New networks of ideas.”
The anti-Trump establishment argues that the Republican presidential nominee’s foreign policy pronouncements are what scare them, including his embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who threatens Europe’s democracy, and his call to torture terrorism suspects. The 50 letter signers vowed not to vote for him.
“From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander-in-chief,” they said. “Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
Mr. Gingrich said much of their opposition stems from Mr. Trump’s strident and frequent criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and oust Saddam Hussein.
The majority of signers worked in the Bush administration, and many played a role in Iraq policy.
“What you are looking at are people who helped create a war we are still not winning 15 years into the war,” Mr. Gingrich said. “They don’t want to have a debate about the war so they want to have a debate about Trump’s temperament. But the fact is we ought to be debating, ‘How come we are not winning?’”
One of those war architects is Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy who now directs national security studies at the Hudson Institute think tank. Mr. Feith said he did not see the letter but would have signed it.
“I don’t believe Trump should be president,” he said. “As you can imagine, I think Hillary Clinton will do a lot of harm as president. But I fear that Trump is even more dangerous. I feel terribly sad about the state of our country’s politics now. I don’t know who you count as establishment. My own concern is that he opposes Reagan-style conservatism, free markets and strong international foreign and defense policies, and he has a personality and character dangerous to our social fabric, to our Constitution and to our national security.”
The letter’s signatories include two former Cabinet secretaries, an intelligence czar, a CIA director and a trade representative. The others were senior level policymakers, mostly serving at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.
The total makeup: 15 consultants and/or lobbyists, four investors, eight lawyers who advise corporate clients, 14 think tank analysts who also can advise businesses and governments, and nine professors.
Among them, six are affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations, a large collection of foreign and defense policy analysts whom some have likened to a semi-official government advisory board.
Among the Republicans who signed the letter of 50:
• Two of Mr. Bush’s secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security: Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge.
Mr. Chertoff left government and founded The Chertoff Group, an international consulting firm. Also signing were two of his associates: former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and Richard Falkenrath, a former White House aide.
Mr. Ridge founded Ridge Global LLC consulting firm and sits on corporate boards.
• Former National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte. He is an executive at McLarty Associates, founded by Democrat Thomas “Mack” McLarty, who served as White House chief of staff for Mr. Clinton.
• Former U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills. She founded Hills & Co., which does consulting and lobbying and has major corporate clients.
• Former Assistant Defense Secretary Mary Beth Long. She set up Metis Solutions and has government and business clients, including the Homeland Security and Defense departments.
• Two former officials who are now executives with Rock Creek Global Advisors, which does consulting and lobbying: Clay Lowery, a former Treasury assistant secretary, and Daniel M. Price, a former deputy White House national security adviser. Rock Creek was founded by Mr. Bush’s former White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, who did not sign the letter.
• Brian Gunderson, former State Department chief of staff. He is the head of public policy for Elliott Management, a hedge fund.
• Kristen Silverberg, former assistant secretary of state. She serves on corporate boards and is an adviser to Beacon Global Strategies. Beacon, a consulting firm, was set up by some of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle of aides at the State Department.
The Democratic Washington establishment also is attacking Mr. Trump.
On Beacon Global Strategies’ payroll is former CIA acting Director Michael J. Morell. Mr. Morell penned an op-ed last week in The New York Times — the same vehicle for releasing the letter of 50 — bashing Mr. Trump as unqualified to be president.
Neither The Times nor Mr. Morel’s column disclosed that he is on Beacon’s payroll.
Mr. Trump thanked the 50 for underscoring his campaign against Washington’s elite.
“These were the people that have been there a long time,” he told Fox Business Network. “Washington establishment people that have been there for a long time. Look at the terrible job they’ve done. I hadn’t planned on using any of these people.”
Said Mr. Gingrich: “You’re seeing a very profound shake-up between people who care more about developing policies that work and people who care about belonging to the establishment. Frankly, the establishment folks, whether they’re foreign policy or they’re party apparatchiks, they’re all going in the end to be not for Trump because Trump represents very real change.”