David Frum’s Stupid Ideas to Save His Party

David FrumOh, David Frum. He’s the slightly smarter stupid conservative’s idea of what a smart guy is. Last week, The Atlantic paid him way more than he’s worth to write, The Great Republican Revolt. You see, Frum has noticed that there is a divide in the Republican Party. The fact that this was apparent back in 1976 when Ronald Reagan first ran for president or even earlier when Barry Goldwater lost the presidency in catastrophic fashion back in 1964, doesn’t much seem to matter. The Republican base is crazy for Donald Trump and so this is supposed to be something new.

David Frum’s overall narrative is basically correct, however. There is the business side of the Republican Party. All it cares about is tax cuts for the rich and deregulation, because they don’t have to worry about being poisoned by lead. And then there are the fools that we call the Republican base. These are mostly quasi-religious people who don’t think much of the darkies and think that all their problems (which are very real) are due to those poor undeserving people. And it has been a testament to the brilliance of the Republican Party establishment that they’ve been able to get the base to vote for them year after year even as the party makes their lives worse and worse.

Donald TrumpBut what happens if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee or even the president? Contrary to Frum, nothing much is going to change. For a brief period of time, I too thought that Donald Trump might be something different — a real populist. But then he came out with his tax “reform” plan and it was even worse than the establishment plans. It is just huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and a few crumbs for the rest. So he’s not going to cut Social Security (or at least that’s what he says). The truth is, none of the others would be able to get that done. So who cares? Certainly not the Republican elite.

Donald Trump is not an outlier. He’s pushing the same old giveaways to the rich and getting the base to vote for him by any means necessary. In his case, it is through racism. Gee, I wonder where I’ve seen that used before? I think it was every other Republican candidate in my lifetime. It’s just that Donald Trump is more explicit about that. This doesn’t make Donald Trump “Republican Outsider V 1.0” or even “Republican Establishment Candidate V 2.0”; it makes him “Republican Establishment Candidate V 1.01.”

So if Trump gets the nomination, the Republican establishment will line up right behind him. As far as I can tell, they already have. It is just that he makes their other extremist candidates look moderate because they don’t talk about Mexicans being rapists (except for a few who he assumes are nice people). But David Frum — like a typical clueless insider — can’t see this. He thinks that the Republican establishment has four options:

Double Down
Maybe the problem isn’t the message of tax breaks for the rich and cheap immigrant labor; maybe it’s just that Jeb Bush sucks as a candidate. But if that’s true, so does Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindel, oh hell, all of them. But Frum is right about this, “The ‘change nothing but immigration’ advice was a self-flattering fantasy from the start.” I’ve been making that argument longer than Frum has.
Tactical Concession
Here Frum really goes off the rails. He claims that the GOP establishment could just go on with business as usual, but become anti-immigrant. I don’t know where Frum has been for the past four years, but this is what the Republican establishment believes in. They might think it was okay to try to win a couple of Latino votes, but they’ve never thought it was important enough to fight for. This is the position that every Republican candidate is pursuing — and that includes Jeb Bush.
True Reform
This one is a hoot! David Frum claims “party elites could try to open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class.” Oh yeah! And then they would be — Oh, what do they call it? — the Democratic Party. If the party did this, the Republican donor class would have no reason to support it. In fact, given the donor class tends to be socially liberal, they would just shift to the Democratic Party. There is no point for the Republican Party to become economically populist.
Change the Rules of the Game
Here, Frum suggests that the Republican Party is highly successful with its use of gerrymandering, filibustering, and voter disenfranchisement. It doesn’t need to win the presidency. Fair enough.

The big problem with David Frum’s article is that he thinks that Donald Trump is something new in the Republican Party. There is nothing new about him. He’s just a different paint job on the same old clunker. So we don’t see the Republican Party at a crossroads. We just see the party continuing its decades long slip out of the mainstream, ever more dependent upon angry white people willing to vote for the very people who make their lives hard.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

12 thoughts on “David Frum’s Stupid Ideas to Save His Party

  1. Frum suggests that the Republican Party is highly successful with its use of gerrymandering, filibustering, and voter disenfranchisement.

    This could last a while but not forever-even with ALEC or whoever Kris Kobach is involved with coming up with new twists all the time. Eventually the voters who could not get IDs will get them because the base activists will get them to where they need to go. And it will probably just take a short take over of the Senate to get rid of the filibuster (well if the Dems were smart but…)

    Even with the gerrymandering that continues to occur, eventually things will change. Unless of course the Democratic Party does its usual snatch of defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • That’s exactly what I think on good days! But the Republican Party has been great at keeping things going just through the next election cycle. They are like watching someone juggling 5 balls — you know they are going to drop them, but they haven’t yet!

      • That is the way I view it-we have been told that the numbers will eventually favor the Democrats but it never seems to happen. I really think it is going to take the die off of the youngest baby boomers and by then we will all be dead.

        But there is a small possibility so I am hopeful. Mainly because it rained for the past two days.

        • There were a lot of college students who supported Hitler…

          My biggest problem is not the parties. I don’t actually care. It is the playing field or the “Overton Window.” The conservatives have managed to move it radically to the right over the last 40 years. So even when Republicans lose, they win.

          • That is pretty accurate-even with Sanders dragging it back over a couple of inches, the discussion is still incredibly right wing based on the stuff my English friend rant about.

            • Right. I don’t think it is the people who decide either. It is the media. That’s why I’ve come to hate the upper-middle class bastards so much. They are so certain they’ve figured out Aristotle’s mean between the extremes. And what a surprise: it just happens to be be exactly what is best for them!

              • It is funny that the sweet spot just happens to be so beneficial for them. Then again they never think about it because that requires putting themselves outside their insulated little bubble. And it is almost always the pundits, the actual beat reporters sometimes slip a little subversive report here or there or break open a story like the one in Chicago about the torturing that cops are doing.

                I would be surprised but I read too much history for that.

                • There’s a class system in journalism too. I don’t think that Gary Webb was equivalent to David Brooks.

  2. “The big problem with David Frum’s article is that he thinks that Donald Trump is something new in the Republican Party. There is nothing new about him. He’s just a different paint job on the same old clunker.”

    That’s half the problem, yes. The other half is that Hillary Cinton is nothing new, either. More and more, I am reminded of 1968 (the first election I was eligible to vote). The players are interchangeable: Clinton/Humphrey, the party hack and presumptive candidate, Sanders/McCarthy, the “anti-business as usual” upstart beloved by activists, and Trump/Nixon, the Republican candidate ready to sneak through to victory with the help of Democrats unwilling to support their own candidate. As both sides make demonization of the Other their main goal, the lesser of two evils becomes more and more difficult to discern.

    Do I have an answer, a way out of this mess? Nope. Only resignation. “Be angry at the sun for setting, if these things bother you,” as Robinson Jeffers wrote.

    • That’s an interesting analogy. Although I don’t think things are the same as they ever were. It’s only been since Ford-Carter that economics has trumped all over considerations in presidential races. And over the years, Republicans have had some ideas that weren’t totally terrible. Now they don’t. I really don’t think I’m being tribalistic about this. I’ve long maintained that if the Republicans became an actual populist party, I would probably vote for them, even though I would disagree with them on social issues. But they really do offer the worst possible combination of policies. Of course, if they became economically liberal, the Democrats would just follow along. The Republicans are great at using fear and hatred to get elected, but the Democrats are equally good at co-opting whatever is working.

      I will still happily vote for Sanders in the primary and (most likely) Clinton in the general.

  3. I thought that Frum’s column was pretty good. I understand that in some ways, Trump is the same old conservative with his tax cuts and his racism. However, I still do believe that he is different (for better or for worse).

    What makes Trump different is that his supporters are Republicans who are discretely moving away from an ideal of rugged individualism. Right up through 2012, the Republican line was that the private sector never fails and it can only be failed. The orthodoxy was that if your wages are low, it must be your fault. You must be too dumb or too lazy or lacking the right skill set.

    Trump is taking aim at Wall Street, trade deals and labor policy (by way of immigration). As of now, his heterodoxies are only tonal in nature but that tone is very different from Romney-Ryan in 2012 when Atlas Shrugged was a companion to the Bible and rank and file GOP voters still thought of themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. The belief among GOP voters, that forces other than “welfare,” “The debt” and “big government” are holding them back, is a change and it is noteworthy.

    BTW, I think that I too almost laughed out loud when I read suggestion number three. When the GOP gets serious about middle-class issues they are, as you said, a totally different party.

    • I disagree. Don’t you remember how the Tea Party howled about the Wall Street bailouts? The Republican base has always hated that kind of stuff. They just don’t care about it anywhere near as much as they do about screwing the poor and people who don’t look like them. Trump may say some bad things about Wall Street, but what he’s going to actually do is cut their taxes. See Rock Stars and Tax Cuts.

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