Conservative David Frum loses think-tank job after criticizing GOP

Frum said the GOP suffered a
Frum said the GOP suffered a "crushing" loss. (The Newshour With Jim Lehrer - The Newshour With Jim Lehrer)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

Three days after calling health-care reform a debacle for Republicans, David Frum was forced out of his job at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday.

The ouster also came one day after a harsh Wall Street Journal editorial ripped the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, saying he "now makes his living as the media's go-to basher of fellow Republicans" and accusing him of "peddling bad revisionist history."

Frum made clear, in a letter to AEI President Arthur C. Brooks, that his departure after seven years as a resident fellow at the conservative think tank was not voluntary. "I have had many fruitful years at the American Enterprise Institute," he wrote, "and I do regret this abrupt and unexpected conclusion of our relationship."

In a brief interview, Frum said "there was no suggestion by AEI" that his sharp criticism of the GOP's health-care strategy was the reason for his dismissal. He declined to say what Brooks told him.

"They invited me to remain associated with AEI on a non-salaried basis," Frum said, and he declined.

On his Web site, FrumForum, he wrote Sunday that when Congress approved President Obama's overhaul, conservatives and Republicans "suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s."

"A huge part of the blame for today's disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves," Frum wrote. "At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama's Waterloo -- just as healthcare was [Bill] Clinton's in 1994. . . .

"This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none."

Brooks said in a statement that while AEI will not discuss personnel matters, "David Frum is a truly original thinker and we are proud to have been associated with him for the last seven years. His decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him."

Bruce Bartlett, another conservative scholar who has been at odds with the right, wrote that Frum told him AEI staffers "had been ordered not to speak to the media" about health care "because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do. . . . The donor community is only interested in financing organizations that parrot the party line."

While Frum was hanging his hat at AEI, the organization had to share his services with other outside ventures, including his Web site, his books, his frequent television appearances and his column for the Week magazine and Canada's National Post.

Frum's stint in the Bush White House is best remembered for his role in crafting the phrase "axis of evil," which the former president used in his 2002 State of the Union speech to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Frum has long been a contrarian conservative. He emerged as a harsh critic of Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign and resigned from the National Review after Obama was elected. "I think a little more distance can help everybody do a better job of keeping their temper," he said then. "I am really and truly frightened by the collapse of support for the Republican Party by the young and the educated."

He has also been at war with much of the talk-radio right. Frum wrote a Newsweek cover story last year lambasting Rush Limbaugh, calling the host a "walking stereotype of self-indulgence -- exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party."

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