PJM seems to be the only website that has not had a single posting on the recent brouhaha over David Frum, and the reasons for his leaving — or being fired from — the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). So I have decided to join the fray.
First, on the issues of whether or not Frum was dismissed suddenly and without good reason, or whether he voluntarily left, I have no great insight on to what happened behind the scenes — only opinions derived from what Frum and others have recently said. There has been vitriolic comments on all sides, the most harsh coming from his former colleague and friend, Charles Murray. Frum’s own response can be found here on Frum’s own website. Readers can go to all the links and reach their own judgment about what happened.
I think we can all agree that if AEI decided to let him go for what they thought were valid internal reasons, the timing itself was quite bad. It took place immediately after Frum penned a piece arguing that Republicans could well have dealt with the Democrats in forging a different health care proposal, his now famous Waterloo column. That was followed by a rather unprecedented Wall Street Journal editorial condemning Frum as “the media’ s go-basher of fellow Republicans.” AEI President Arthur Brooks’ dismissal of Frum certainly made it appear that he was worried about donors contributing to his institute after Frum had been subject to such major condemnation from influential conservative figures and newspapers.
What has been forgotten in all of this is that if you regularly read Frum — and respect his serious analytical mind, his sharp insights and his willingness to go where he believes the evidence leads — what one can find is the judgement of a man who believes the Republicans must succeed in advancing alternatives to ObamaCare and other Democratic programs that he believes are ill founded and dangerous to the nation’s eventual health. What he is arguing about are really tactics — the question of how to reach a population that has serious grievances with the current Democratic agenda, but that is equally repelled by the rhetoric and approaches of what we might call the hard Right. This includes many conservative Republicans, moderates, and of course the centrists who are quickly making up a majority of voters and who do not register as either Democrats or Republicans.
Frum, along with John Avlon and others, regularly makes a strong argument that without obtaining the support of this center — a necessity for governing a center/right nation — it will become more and more impossible for Republicans to succeed in gaining both houses of Congress as well as the White House. Frum, Avlon and Scott McClellan made the case for this the other night on Larry King Live. You can see the video here, or read the entire transcript.
Frum explained himself in this way: “And what we’re hearing right now from a lot of people are our fantasies, delusions, things that can’t work. And that means — that opens the way to an easy run for Democratic and liberal success to expand government. We saw the catastrophic result of that with passage of this health care bill. I think that is not an effective way to proceed. I’m a competitor. I want to win.”
I happen to disagree with David in his judgement that “there were opportunities to deal [with the Democrats] on the Senate Finance Committee,” and thereby Republicans sought instead to “break” Obama, and failing in that goal, succeeded only in allow an Obama victory that led to “tremendous political success for the President.” But this is a judgement call, one in which good people can differ. I think that the Democrats never were serious in accommodating real Republican concerns, and preferred to gain a victory for their own agenda even if it meant trying to govern when half the country is against the bill they used reconciliation to pass.