In a new episode of Political Wire's podcast, we chat with David Frum, an author and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, about his views on the Republican Party's evolution, how the GOP should treat ObamaCare, and the challenges Hillary Clinton could face in 2016.
Here are five takeaways:
1. The recession and its aftermath have helped fuel a radical brand of conservatism. In President Obama's first term, a slow economic recovery and conservative anger toward his policies stoked Republican fears about the direction of the country, making them more susceptible to radical ideas. As the economy has recovered, elites in the GOP's business and establishment wing have reaped more of the benefits than the rank-and-file. Said Frum: "The rank-and-file of the Republican Party remains as angry and as fearful about the future as ever." He points to some staunch conservatives' opposition to NSA's surveillance programs, whose creation Republicans supported in the Bush era. Whether it's the NSA, or fiscal issues like government spending, or cultural issues like gay rights, "in the Republican world there are a lot of people...who feel that their way of life is crumbling in front of their eyes."
2. Generational shifts could help settle longtime debates for the GOP. Much of the tension and fear in the GOP stems from the concerns of baby boomers in their early retirement years, whose finances were hurt by the Great Recession and who are now concerned about the future of entitlements like Medicare. As a new generation enters the political fray, new political issues will emerge and existing ones will gain greater salience — gay rights, marijuana legalization, gambling, and climate change among them. The challenge for Republicans is how to evolve their views on those issues. They should stop simply patting extremists on the back, and instead have a spirited debate on which mantle to adopt for each issue, Frum said.
3. Republicans should suck it up on ObamaCare and work to tweak it. Frum admitted he's in the minority on this issue right now. He doesn't like ObamaCare, but since its passage he has warned that repeal would be difficult — a prediction that's held true. Universal or near-universal coverage is a concept that may be here to stay, and conservatives should not only accept it, but use it as an opening to work with Democrats to fix the way ObamaCare delivers on that concept. Some Republicans may quietly agree with him, Frum said. The problem: "Nobody will advocate it." At least not yet.
4. Hillary Clinton may be the "safe" choice for Democrats in 2016, but she won't inspire progressives. Republicans "ate their vegetables" and nominated an uninspiring Mitt Romney for president in 2012, Frum said, but Democrats may not do the same in 2016 with Clinton. "She offers confidence, she offers a resume, but she doesn’t offer a vision." Progressives, he said, are feeling energized, partly because of the election of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and a renewed push to promote ideas like raising the minimum wage. Progressives also feel resentment toward Republicans after what they view as five years of obstruction, and many may want to find someone who can make them feel as inspired as they did in 2008 with Barack Obama.
5. Hillary's husband's dealings may serve as baggage. While Hillary was secretary of State, Bill Clinton wasn't simply sitting on the sidelines. Although he has spent time on his Clinton Global Initiative, Frum noted that Bill has also racked up millions of dollars in speaking fees and commercial endorsement deals, including as a pitchman for a Brazilian for-profit university that has come under public scrutiny. If Hillary runs for president, her camp may not want to answer questions about that and other aspects of her husband's dealings, but "they’re going to have to."
Listen to the interview here: