Getting fired from the American Enterprise Institute might have been the best thing that’s ever happened to David Frum. Political types on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs seemed to talk about little else until the news broke that Michael Steele’s RNC paid for a crazy night out at a naughty nightclub for titillated donors. But even amidst the scandal, Frum is continuing to make the rounds. Today, he participated in a chat on The Washington Post‘s website “to discuss Republican politics, the conservative movement and his recent termination as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.” (The RNC scandal came up, of course. Frum’s response? The other guys do it, too! “May I point out that DNC also spends money at smutty night clubs? In fact, rather more money?”)
The fired Frum seemed like an energized man at the beginning of his conversation with his readers. Perhaps it was because the second questioner threw him a softball: “Even as American conservatives criticize you for stating the facts, in Britain your ideas are propelling the Tories back into power. Does this comfort you at all?” Might the Canadian-American pundit soon add a third passport to his pile—or at least write a piece about “unpatriotic Conservatives”?
The first question Frum faced was about healthcare reform—the issue that apparently got him sacked from AEI—and here he made some sensible points about what he thought the Republicans should have tried to change about the bill, had they been amenable to compromise as he advised: less regulation, a move away from employer-provided care, no expansion of Medicaid, and taxes not on “savings, investment and work.”
It went downhill from there. Frum is offering himself as a guru of a “modern” Right, but he doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons from the collapse of the most recent model. One participant challenged him: “Can you name one good thing that has come from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (not counting Saddam gone–a high price for loss of American lives)?” Frum can’t say the war-without-end got rid of Iraq’s WMDs—because there weren’t any—so he offered a new formulation. “Iraq has ceased to be a threat to its neighbors, ceased to threaten US interests, and ceased to pursue weapons of mass destruction. Those seem important accomplishments.” Another person asked, “Can’t most of the political decline of the Republican Party in recent times, and more directly the political calamities of 2006 and 2008, be blamed on George W. Bush’s misguided adventure in Iraq and the negative reaction Americans have towards that conflict of choice?” Frum said, “This is an important question. I answer it at length in the afterword to my 2007 book , Comeback. For now let’s just say that I think the answer is ‘up to a point’ for 2006 and ‘no’ for 2008.”
But he’s in it to win it. Another questioner wonders, “Will the growing influence of Ron Paul move the party towards libertarianism?” Frum’s slightly bewildering answer: “Yes, Paul has moved the GOP in a libertarian direction. But since that same tendency is weakening the GOP and strengthening the Dems, the net political effect of Ron Paul is to WEAKEN libertarianism by shifting the less statist of the 2 parties toward an unelectable extreme. Extremism in pursuit of liberty is a serious vice.” In other words, the Republicans should make certain they hold on to no principles; principles won’t get them elected.
By the end, it seems as if Frum has simply given up on his fans. One participant asked, “Could you explain what you mean by ‘Republican modernization’?” An important question, as this is exactly what Frum spends his time pushing these days. His response was certainly succinct: “Every day at every hour at FrumForum.com – please come visit.” A former Republican explains his bitterness at being called a “Republican in Name Only” because of his “moderate social beliefs.” This is just the sort of person for whom Frum says he speaks. But his response to this “disillusioned” voter is to suggest he buy one of Frum’s t-shirts.