David Frum speaks during a live taping of ‘Meet the Press’ at NBC studios March 15, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
David Frum has been cuddled as lovingly in the ample bosom of the great Republican establishment—and derived as much nourishment from its plump teats—as any other man in the last thirty years. The Canadian immigrant, who turned 52 in June, has been a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, an editor at Forbes, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a speechwriter for George W. Bush—Frum helped write the “axis of evil” line—and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The last of those jobs, the AEI fellowship, paid him $100,000 a year, and it did not actually require any work.
Yet in the past two or three years, Frum has quite notably, and with a giant sucking sound, detached himself from that reliable source of feeding, or rather funding. Most notably, he got himself fired from AEI, in all likelihood for writing a blog post arguing that, in their stubborn refusal to negotiate, Republicans missed a chance to pull the Obama administration’s healthcare legislation in a more market-friendly direction.
“The ‘Waterloo’ threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right,” Frum wrote at the end of the post, which ran on March 22, 2010. “Only it turns out to be our own.” Over the next week, the right turned against him for good: he was attacked in an editorial run by his old employer, the Wall Street Journal, and AEI fired him.
Frum stopped writing for the major right-wing magazine, National Review, in 2009, and has since found new shelter. Last November, he took to the pages of New York, a magazine with a liberal readership and an even more liberal editorial voice, to publish a cover story called “When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?” In that essay, he levied this attack on his fellow Republicans: “In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed…. My party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners.” Earlier this year, Frum joined the Daily Beast, where he has played the unpredictable centrist, attacking all sides, often ignoring politics, often deriding politicians: one day remembering hairdresser Vidal Sassoon as a Zionist icon and some days later calling out Newt Gingrich for obvious lies. He wrote one of the most devastating attacks on Coming Apart, the new book by right-wing hero Charles Murray. And after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Frum belittled the conservative minority. “Shoving fingers into the ears and chanting ‘nah, nah, I can’t hear you’ is a bizarre way to go about the judicial enterprise,” Frum wrote about the dissenting opinion. “Yet there is a comic as well as a depressing aspect to this latest expression of the conservative refusal to acknowledge unwelcome realities.”
Frum has not become a liberal. When I asked him whom he planned to vote for this fall, Frum—who was granted joint American citizenship in 2007—seemed almost offended by the question. “I’m going to vote for Romney,” he assured me, and perhaps himself. But he has become one of the media’s most effective anti-conservative, or at least anti-Republican, commentators. Frum would argue that he has not moved—much. He says the recession has given him a greater appreciation for the social safety net, and that while he remains “very concerned by the weakening of the American family,” he is “more and more inclined to trace that change to the way that the economy works,” not just to people’s poor characters. But mostly he believes it is the right that has changed, not him. He is trying to get them back on course.