In politics, a “rubber chicken circuit’ is the nickname given to the endless parade of dinners that political candidates must attend during a campaign for office in order to meet donors and raise money.
The term refers to the pre-cooked, stale and unappetizing meals often served at these fundraising dinners. As described in The Guardian, it describes “the abundance of cold drumsticks on the buffet tables.”
The first known use of this term dates back to the 1950s when improvements in transportation made it easier for candidates to travel the city, state or country in which they were running to meet with potential supporters. Perhaps the earliest use is from a 1953 New York Times article: “Pity the poor coach. This is his twenty-first engagement on the ‘rubber chicken circuit’ in the past month and he has to drive 200 miles to the next town after he has finished his pleas for John and the other departing seniors.”
Over the years, countless candidates have hit the “rubber chicken circuit” to pound the flesh, raise money and meet wealthy donors. In 2012, Politico described then Maryland governor, and future presidential candidate, Martin O’ Malley’s appearance at Iowa steak dinner as ‘ramping up his presence on the national rubber-chicken circuit.”
During the lead up to the 2016 presidential race, in describing what Hillary Clinton will have to do to win the Oval Office, the Washington Post noted: “She’s going to have to spend time on the rubber-chicken circuit, looking inquisitive in factories (donning safety goggles as well) and dealing with a whole lot of minutiae.”
The term “rubber chicken circuit” is not just limited to campaigning, but also refers to the spate of high-profile speeches given by former officeholders, as in the case of Newt Gingrich, whose “rubber chicken circuit” speeches are described here in Wired Magazine as earning the former Speaker of the House “$50,000 a pop.”
While the rubber chicken circuit has long been a staple of donor-based campaigning, in more recent years it has become more associated with elitism in the political arena: From a 2020 article from The Independent, quoting Donald Trump, Jr.: “I am not an elitist. Never have been, never wanted to be and certainly never tried to get on the BS rubber chicken dinner circuit,”
Of course, the food served at these countless political dinners is not limited to poultry: the “rubber chicken circuit” is also sometimes referred to as the “mashed potato circuit.”