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David Frum and the Schism within the GOP

David Frum is one of those oddities, an intelligent, often insightful Republican. He’s like a David Brooks with more IQ points. I call him an “oddity” because he really shouldn’t be a Republican. It’s like he started out there, got comfortable, got recognition (he was one of Dubya’s speech writers) and ended up with this as part of his self-identity. There are lots of folks like this around. I do wonder whom they vote for when they pull the curtain closed. I’m pretty certain that this year it’s going to be Hillary.

Frum has a long article in The Atlantic dissecting the schism in the GOP, the one that no one saw coming. His argument is that the elites who have always run the Republican party misunderstood why they’ve lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential races. They thought it was because the GOP had failed to reach out to the growing Latino voters and that they needed to support progressive immigration reform. And, in fact, they tried. Rubio joined the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who tried writing an immigration bill that would even have included pathways to citizenship.

But while the bill was withering on the vine (like virtually all even modestly progressive proposals do) Donald Trump happened and the GOP began reeling like a honorable gent who got sucker-punched on his way to his country club.

Suddenly Frum’s Republicans were marginalized. Walker and Graham pulled out, Bush is floundering, Kasich vanishing and Rubio and Christie have leap-frogged each other in desperate efforts to be ever more extreme.

Frum is correct that Trump’s appeal is not to be found in what he calls “Conservative Classic” which is traditional values, pro business, small government and lower taxes. Instead the GOP is suddenly overwhelmed by angry, poorly educated, frustrated, white, mostly male racists and xenophobes who despise the upper classes, don’t trust politicians, are mostly ignorant about government and actually support programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Frum gets the problems with the current GOP right. Then comes the fun part: What to do about this mess?

He makes several suggestions, among them what the party could/should be doing — quoting now:

“Make peace with universal health-insurance coverage: Mend Obamacare rather than end it. Cut taxes less at the top, and use the money to deliver more benefits to working families in the middle. Devise immigration policy to support wages, not undercut them. Worry more about regulations that artificially transfer wealth upward, and less about regulations that constrain financial speculation. Take seriously issues such as the length of commutes, nursing-home costs, and the anticompetitive practices that inflate college tuition. Such a party would cut health-care costs by squeezing providers, not young beneficiaries. It would boost productivity by investing in hard infrastructure—bridges, airports, water-treatment plants. It would restore Dwight Eisenhower to the Republican pantheon alongside Ronald Reagan and emphasize the center in center-right.”

It’s like the first half of almost every David Brooks column, it makes you wonder why he’s not a Democrat — then you hit the last line, the standard bow and bended knee to Reagan and you can see what Frum, for all his intelligence and probing analysis, does not.

Frum still doesn’t, cannot grasp that all that is wrong with the GOP began with Reagan. The line that the government can’t solve the problems because government is the problem set the tone. The attack on and demonizing of unions began the unraveling of the middle class. The tax cuts that favored the rich began the redistribution of wealth.

Frum is right that the elite, the country club Republicans, never realized what was happening. Alas, they (and he) never realized that Reagan’s policies created the underclass of poorly educated, blue-collar white males whose wages have stagnated and whose life-expectations have crashed and burned — the very ones who’ve boosted Trump to the top of the polls.

Reader Comments (1)

Perfect take on the GOP's problem!
Frum quote great, thanks.

January 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersteve wolff

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