A few years ago — shortly after the election of President Obama — I was eating a sandwich and listening to a speaker at an event hosted by the John Locke Foundation. I got a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn’t the sandwich.
David Frum was speaking. At the risk of misremembering his talk, I will offer no quotes from that day. But it became clear to me that Frum was deeply concerned about demography, the sensibilities of the young, and the future of the GOP. If the party didn’t change, it would die. The left had succeeded in capturing the imagination of the youth. Frum referred specifically to poll numbers showing youth disaffection with orthodox conservatism.
Frum then proceeded to argue that, to rescue the right, conservatives were going to have to become more like Democrats, as Frum himself had done. This is not his exact phrasing. But Frum’s tack amounted to: sell off your principles, piece by piece, until you look enough like your opposition to capture some of their sheep. It was clear that Frum was not only committed to a kind of demographic determinism, but to the empty tribalism of party.
More recently, Frum wrote:
Through the debate over health-care reform in 2009-10, I urged that Republicans try to reach some kind of deal. The Democrats had the votes to pass something. They could not afford to lose. Providing health coverage to all is a worthy goal, and the core mechanisms of what we called Obamacare should not have been obnoxious to Republicans. In fact, they were drawn from past Republican plans.
Even if Frum is right that members of his party had, for years, been offering policies made out of thinner, more tepid leftism, isn’t it a little disingenuous to criticize Republicans for actually trying to find their principles again? Instead of offering the right a moral compass, Frum offers the U.S. equivalent of Majorism (as in John), when what we need is something closer to Thatcherism.
Needless to say, Frum’s strategy of regaining power through deliberate soul-thinning didn’t sit well with me. It was not just that Frum was in denial about the big-government conservatism of 2000-2006. It was that Frum’s was not a strategy to catalyze a people or to rescue a Republic. His plan was to stretch an already contorted platform to fit the opinions of college kids. Frum had conveniently forgotten that his party had already strayed into that wilderness where no principle lives. Because Frum is a prince in this wilderness, it’s no wonder his suggested method for preventing his party’s decline is to drag the GOP even further into it.