The number of Americans who self-identify as Republicans may be reaching a low mark. Arlen Specter may have left the party. Rush Limbaugh may still hold the party faithful in a bizarre thrall. But there is still life in the G.O.P. There are still intelligent analysts in the G.O.P. corner. And if I had to make my pick of who could provide the political analysis to lift the Republicans from their current state of confusion to a new party of government, right now I’d say that person is David Frum. In fact, I confess to being a regular reader of Frum’s postings and other writings. Frum is a solid analytical thinker and an excellent writer. But he has some other traits that will serve him over time.
A sense of humor, for instance. On Wednesday, Obama and Biden made a trip to a suburban Virginia hamburger joint for lunch. The event turned into a media frenzy that was effectively ridiculed by The Daily Show (with some assistance from Dan Rather). On the right, Sean Hannity attacked Obama for ordering mustard with his burger. Frum gives this a deadpan grilling on the basis of culinary polls:
What kind of a man eats his hamburger without ketchup? That was the big question yesterday on talk radio, after President Obama visited an Arlington, Virginia, hamburger place on Tuesday and ordered his burger with spicy mustard.
First answer: Texans… Second answer: Republicans. A 2000 survey of members of Congress by the National Hot Dog Council found that 73% of Republican lawmakers preferred mustard to ketchup, as opposed to 47% of Democratic lawmakers. Final answer: traditionalists. Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, the restaurant widely believed to have served the first hamburgers ever made in the United States, absolutely forbids ketchup.
Although it seems that Louis’ Lunch also forbids mustard, this spirit is just what the G.O.P. needs now.
While he spent a long time with the Bush team and showed little evidence of appreciating its mistakes, the post-Bush Frum is able to deal critically with leadership mistakes. Consider his comments on Sarah Palin early in the ’08 campaign. He quickly identifies the pluses and minuses of the initial choice and is among the first to itemize the candidate’s shortcomings. Indeed, looking back at them now, Frum’s comments seem downright prophetic.
He recognizes that the Rovian formula might just barely have worked in 2000 and 2004, but it’s a dead-end going forward. Frum is focused on a path forward that pays attention to demographics and lost voter bases.
A generation ago, Republicans were dominant among college graduates. Those days are long gone. Since 1988, Democrats have become more conservative on economics – and Republicans more conservative on social issues. College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. There are more and more college-educated voters. So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? This will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. It will involve even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarising on social issues.
And finally, David Frum, more than any other G.O.P. commentator associated with the last administration, speaks from a consistent set of conservative reference points. That points to the basis for the sort of political dialogue that the country needs.