How David Frum Went From Loyal Conservative To Excommunicated Dissident

David Frum

David Frum announced last week that he will take some time away from daily blogging to deal with family matters.

In his parting post, Frum told conservatives they must moderate to win. It’s not advice conservatives are likely to accept today.

Frum’s recommendations reflect his journey from mainstream conservative thinker to a dissident rejected by much of the right.

Over at The Week, Jeb Golinkin wrote that “conservatives who have come to loathe David’s existence […] will miss the heretic while he is gone, for his ideas were lucid and crisp, and his goals were pure,” and that “better times are ahead for the conservative movement, due in no small part to the ideological and intellectual leadership of David Frum.”

How is it that the man who wrote the “Axis of Evil” speech for George W. Bush came to be known as a heretic loathed by his fellow conservatives?

For his part, Frum says that his views haven’t fundamentally changed: “I’m still for small government, free markets, and low taxes,” he said in a phone interview. “I just think that the discussion needs to move forward to today.”

He gives the example of monetary policy. “When the evidence suggests that the problem we’re facing is deflation, you don’t advocate policies that are used to fight inflation.” But Republican calls for tight money are hardly limited to the Ron Paul wing of the party; Republican elected officials have been broadly hostile to Federal Reserve easing efforts, reflecting a mindset that is unchanged from the late 1970s when inflation really was too high.

While Golinkin and other moderates praise Frum’s “intellectual leadership,” Frum’s pragmatism and his lack of patience for conservative ideologues have led to his falling-out with mainstream conservatism. For instance, Frum’s outspoken criticism of Sarah Palin both before and after the 2008 election on his National Review blog drew immediate criticism from right-wing pundits.

Frum continued to push back against the conservative base during the early years of the Obama administration. During the health care debate, Frum was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article as saying that the accusations that President Obama was a socialist or not born in this country were “paranoid delusions.”

After Frum was publicly critical of Republicans’ refusal to cooperate in the construction of health care reform, he abruptly left his position at American Enterprise Institute, a major conservative think-tank. A Huffington Post article from May 2010 said that “donor pressure” led to Frum’s termination. As Frum put it, “[T]he elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped.”

After that, Frum grew more alienated. In a piece for The Week from 2011, Frum lamented conservatives’ lack of interest in intelligence or sanity: “Mitt Romney’s smarts do him surprisingly little good; Rick Perry’s non-smarts do him disturbingly little harm; and Michele Bachmann’s out-beyond-the-Orion-belt substitutions for familiarity with life here on Earth only intensify the admiration of her fan base.”

In his parting advice to conservatives this week, Frum wrote: “Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether.” He knows from experience. But he’s urging other conservatives to follow him as much as possible without going over the edge.