Where do Republicans go from here after health care?

David Frum
Journalist, Author, Editor, Blogger
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 11:00 AM

Journalist, author and editor of (FrumForum) David Frum was online Tuesday, April 6, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss Republican politics, the conservative movement and his recent termination as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


David Frum: Hello it's David Frum, looking forward to questions & comments.

David Frum: Hello & welcome. David Frum here. Let me look through the questions already posted, and start to type some answers ....


Freising, Germany: What constructive contributions could the GOP have added to the Health Care Bill if they had decided to make a deal with the administration? Is there any chance now of such additions being implemented or is the bill cast in stone?

David Frum: Here would have been my top priorities:

In addition to killing the public option (which happened anyway), I'd have liked to see,

1) A different financing mechanism. The Democrats' final plan relies heavily on taxes on savings, investment and work, including a hike in the Medicare payroll tax and an increase in tax on "unearned income," so-called. I'd want to see a broader-based kind of tax: very dangerous if healthcare is a benefit for all, paid by only a few. Even more dangerous when healthcare is financed in ways that cannibalize future economic growth.

2) No expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid is already breaking state finances: this bill will make the dysfunctional Medicaid program worse. We should be moving to include everyone in the new healthcare exchanges.

3) A faster move away from employer-provided care. I preferred Bennett-Wyden to the Democrats' plan.

4) Lighter regulation within the exchanges. I know this is an unusual view, but I think insurance companies need MORE scope to innovate and force cost controls.


London, U.K.: Even as American conservatives criticize you for stating the facts, in Britain your ideas are propelling the Tories back into power. Does this comfort you at all?

David Frum: A Cameron win would be a great boost to Republican modernization. Cameron's recent slip in the polls therefore very troubling. If Cameron should not win decisively, his example will be lost on US conservatives ... who will instead be confirmed in what I call "say it louder" conservatism. The fact that such conservatism ALSO lost (and spectacularly) in UK in 2005 will not matter. You may say that does not make logical sense, but it makes psychological sense. We need less evidence to persuade us to do what we want to do anyway!


Morrison, Colo.: Even when we aren't in the midst of recession we have a federal government that spends 3% more of the economy than it taxes. Will the GOP ever be able to make up that difference. It appears that the rest of the world is getting tired of loaning us the money.

David Frum: You are right, US structural deficit is a huge problem. It's an especially daunting challenge for those of us who want to sustain a robust military and active role in the world, because we start with a commitment of at least 4 points of GDP to defense and international security.

That's one reason that I was sympathetic to concept of Health Care reform: If health care spending rises from already appalling 17% of GDP to 20% of GDP, how does defense not get squeezed? And what hope is there for future tax cuts?


Fairfax County, Va.: I have been struck by the parallels between the Democratic Party beginning in the late 1960s and what is happening now for Republicans.

In each case you see the extremists (within the party) take the lead; a lust for in- and out-groups, ideological "purity" and litmus tests; ardent, camera-friendly, and occasionally repugnant activists who scare off the middle; a lack of self-questioning; unrealistic demonizing of the other side; and a whole lot of lost elections -- while the opposite party has a transformational president who sets a new course. Democrats took at least a decade if not a couple of decades to come back from that wilderness. Why wouldn't the same forces keep Republicans on the fringe this time?

David Frum: It seems almost a law of gravity that a defeated party tends toward its extremes: Goldwater follows Nixon, McGovern follows Humphrey. You see the same tendency in other countries too: look what happened to British Labour in the 1980s, German Social Democrats after Helmut Schmidt, etc.

Republicans look at the Obama administration's sagging poll numbers and see - not the result of a recession that is already ending - but an opportunity to campaign on the economic ideas of Ayn Rand. We'll see how that works out ...


Ashburn, Va.: The GOP and the parties in general have a real problem. As you pointed out, the GOP decided to stonewall the health-care initiative rather than try and influence it. Commentators throughout the process have been pointing out that the GOP wanted no stake in helping Obama with this bill because it was against their interest and goal of getting back into power. We can't pretend that it was entirely principle on their part as so many of the individual components were GOP ideas in the first place. My question is, can we expect the "loyal" opposition to simply try and block everything from here on in, whether the minority is Dem or Rep? How do we ever get the two sides to work together again?

David Frum: I want to be clear: there are issues where the opposition party SHOULD obstruct. If President Obama brings forward an immigration amnesty, I hope the GOP will do everything it can to stop him.

But health care was different, for these reasons:

1) The goal of health care reform includes cost control, a goal that should matter EVEN MORE to Republicans than to Democrats - as I mentioned before, current trajectory threatens both GOP tax and defense commitments.

2) It was very unlikely that HCR could be defeated outright. Dems had read the 1994 history books too! They had a stronger mandate (53% of the vote for Obama vs 42% for Clinton in 1992) and a more liberal Congressional caucus.

3) Most important: the law was just too important not to try to shape it. Suppose it happens (as Republicans now hpe) that GOP regains a house of Congress due to an anti-HCR protest vote. So what? Control of Congress shifts back & forth. This reform is a permanent fact of life, and will now be extremely difficult to alter.

More: as Bryce McNitt argues in a very important post on the FrumForum.com website today, http://www.frumforum.com/obamacare-is-here-to-stay, the passage of Obamacare will begin to create new constituencies in US politics - constituencies that will be up and voting by 2012.

We traded a say in the future permanent shaping of US politics and economics for hope of a temporary gain in Congress. Very bad deal, to my way of thinking.


GOP Myth: I have a question for you as a GOP insider. The media accepts as dogma or accepted science that the Democrats are the party of tax and spend and the GOP are fiscally responsible. Yet the evidence, going back to at least the Reagan years, based on actual performance is that GOP is contrary. Going back to Reagan, the GOP when in power, has run enormous deficits and debt and grew government. In fact, Dick Cheney, remarkably, said that Reagan proved deficits don't matter. Yet the GOP retains the fiscal hawk myth in the media. How do you do it? Is the right-wing media echo chamber that influential with the rest of the media? Isn't the GOP more properly labeled as the borrow and spend party? Thanks.

David Frum: Generally, both parties have done badly on fiscal balance since 1980. Dems are now doing a LOT worse than the very worst under GOP rule.

The problem is a problem in American politics. Because the society has lost a basic consensus about how to conduct politics - a consensus strongly in place in eg the two decades after WW 2 - Americans have great difficulty bringing means and ends into alignment.

ANd the difficulty seems to be growing, a very very troubling prospect.


Portland, Ore.: Lot's of talk of repeal of Obamacare, but what about annulment? The Amish, Muslims and Native Americans all get an exemption. I likewise believe in trusting God to my health and will reject compliance even if it means jail. How can our leaders stop the logical mass migration towards religious exemption under the 1st Amendment?

David Frum: I agree that there ought to be some process by which a "conscientious objector" can be exempted from the mandate to purchase health insurance. Not too easy, or else everybody will sign up, but sufficient that people with principled objections can be exempted. My guess is that when/if mandate case goes to Supreme Court, that the Court will say same thing.


Reston, Va.: Will the growing influence of Ron Paul move the party towards libertarianism?

David Frum: Yes, Paul has moved the GOP in a libertarian direction. But since that same tendency is weakening the GOP and strengthening the Dems, the net political effect of Ron Paul is to WEAKEN libertarianism by shifting the less statist of the 2 parties toward an unelectable extreme.

Extremism in pursuit of liberty is a serious vice.


Arlington, Va.: It strikes me that the current Republican thinking is that there is no deviation at all from standard GOP talking points. Barry Goldwater was pro-choice and I understand that McCain's wife and daughter are pro-choice and pro-gay rights as is Eric Cantor's wife. It creates a party which locaks out a lot of constituencies, say gay conservatives, for no particular reason.

David Frum: Agreed. Parties have to represent America as it is, not AMerica as it was.


Houghton, Mich.: Good morning -- your suggestions for health-care reform contained in your response seem (to coin a phrase) fair and balanced.

I would assume that like-minded congressional Republicans shared your views and insights, but due to the "kill the bill" agenda weren't able to bring forward any changes.

So, the question -- is this what we can expect from conservatives? No debate, no input, no ideas, no compromise, no legislation? Just no, no, no?

David Frum: There were Republicans who wanted to work to fix the bill, including Charles Grassley. There will be a very good book someday in the exact process by which they were corralled into no, no, no.

This impetus is one reason that I have been following with so much concern the challenges to re-election of Utah Sen Bob Bennett. Here's the Republican who took the health care problem most seriously, cosponsored (with Oregon Dem Ron Wyden) a much more market-oriented alternative plan ... and now is likely to lose his seat for his pains.

What message does that send to Republicans who won't be satisfied with talking points and who want to work cooperatively to find workable solutions to real problems?


The party: What do you think about the current state of the Republican Party with the chairman making a heck of a night club comeback? Do you think the Tea Party helps or hurts the GOP?

David Frum: May I point out that DNC also spends money at smutty night clubs? In fact, rather more money?



Surf City, N.C.: Can't most of the political decline of the Republican Party in recent times, and more directly the political calamities of 2006 and 2008, be blamed on George W. Bush's misguided adventure in Iraq and the negative reaction Americans have towards that conflict of choice?

David Frum: This is an important question. I answer it at length in the afterword to my 2007 book , Comeback. For now let's just say that I think the answer is "up to a point" for 2006 and "no" for 2008.


Castle Rock, Colo.: Mr. Frum, in my first two chances to vote for president I voted for Republicans. That was in the 1980s. Now, though, the party seems so far from the center that I can't imagine voting for its candidates. I haven't changed my views all that much. How likely is it, in your opinion, that we can see a return to a moderate Republican party, the kind that produced Ford and George H.W. Bush, anytime soon?

David Frum: How soon is soon?

I dont like the term "moderate" - it implies uncertainty, drift, lack of vision. What we need is a MODERN party: as committed to free enterprise as the Reagan party was, but also attuned to new concerns: healthcare and the environment, accepting of the changed role of women, pro-family without being anti-everybody else, and committed to competence in government.


washingtonpost.com: What Goes On in the DNC Stays in the DNC (FrumForum, April 5)


Wilmington, N.C.: How realistic,in your opinion, are the Repeal and Replace slogans that are surfacing on the internet and in different conservative groups.

Thank you for this informative discussion.

David Frum: Repeal is mathematically impossible. Even if the GOP wins every single Senate seat on ballot in 2010, it will not have the votes to over-ride a presidential veto. Instead, let's revisit, reform and refinance.


Former Republican: I always voted for Republicans until 2006 (I was even one of the military absentee ballots that put Bush over the top in 2000), but now I am considered a "Republican in Name Only" because I actually have some moderate social beliefs. Do the Republicans realize they have basically kicked people like me out of the party? I am pretty disillusioned and may never go back.

David Frum: Dear RINO: You might enjoy one of these t-shirts!


Seriously: I thought the goal was to have MORE Republicans, not fewer.


Wars: Can you name one good thing that has come from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (not counting Saddam gone--a high price for loss of American lives)?

David Frum: Iraq has ceased to be a threat to its neighbors, ceased to threaten US interests, and ceased to pursue weapons of mass destruction. Those seem important accomplishments.


Springfield, Va.: I've seen several articles and opinion pieces predicting that people running as Tea Party candidates (3rd party) will draw votes from the GOP and hurt them in elections. Couldn't a Tea Party candidate also draw off the extremists and let the GOP run more moderate candidates? Your thoughts?

David Frum: I dont expect to see many 3d party candidates in 2010. The real problem occurs in 2012. Again , I worry less about a 3d party challenge than about the price the GOP may pay to thwart such a challenge - by eg requiring a bsaically level-headed person like a Mitt Romney or a Tim Pawlenty to reinvent himself in ways that will doom him.


Chicago, Ill.: First, I just want to say that the Frum Forum is a daily stop for me.

My question: Relating to your quote about who Fox News really works for, are you aware of any other time in U.S. history when one party was so beholden (and seemingly fearful to cross) to just a couple of media outlets (Fox and Limbaugh)? It feels unhealthy for either side to have this dynamic.


David Frum: Thank you , loyal customer! The situation is unprecedented, and is driven both by technological change and by larger social change. In my history of the 1970s, I pointed out that (survey-measured) trust in media RISES at times when trust in other institutions declines. In many ways, media cannibalizes politics. Barack Obama is the best thing ever to happen to Fox. Do they seriously want to retire him? Better to have REpublicans defeated, frustrated, angry, disdainful of elected leaders ... and watching cable instead.


Chicago, Ill.: Rahm Emmanuel and Howard Dean hate each other but were able to compliment each other in the last congressional election. Dean pursued a 50-state strategy while Rahm pursued conservative Dems to fill those slots. Why isn't the GOP doing the same thing?

David Frum: Two test cases for a bigger Republican party: Mark Kirk's Senate campaign in Illinois and Tom Campbell's in California. Uphill in both places. But the addition of senators like these could rebalance the GOP . The defection of California from GOP after 1990 has elevated Texas as the dominant force within GOP politics... but unfortunately Texas more difft from rest of US than CA is.



Republican modernization: Could you explain what you mean by "Republican modernization"? Thanks for taking our questions today.

David Frum: Every day at every hour at FrumForum.com - please come visit - and thank you all!


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