Maverick conservative

Citing the Census Bureau’s final report on the Bush economy, Frum noted on his blog that the cost of wages to employers increased 25 percent per hour between 2000 and 2007 but that the 2007 wages were worth less to employees than they were in 2000 — all due to healthcare costs. “Explaining the impact of health costs is essential to protecting the economic reputation of the last Republican administration and Congress,” he wrote. “If Republicans stick to the line that the U.S. healthcare system works well as is — that it has no important problems that cannot be solved by tort reform — then George W. Bush and the Congresses of 2001-2007 will join Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover in the American memory’s hall of economic failures.”

There’s a rarity these days, a defense of the Bush administration, and even better still, coming from Frum. Though he worked as a speechwriter for Bush — coining the “axis of evil” phrase — Frum has departed the conservative establishment and set himself apart this year by not only violating the unwritten rule that no conservative shall speak ill of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but doing it with gusto.

Frum’s site, “New Majority, building a conservatism that can win again,” was launched in January. So far it has attracted some 850,000 unique visitors, recently averaging 12,000-15,000 per day. Frum’s goal is to present a critique of Obama’s policies — increased debt and an increasingly regulated economy — without the kind of attacks coming from conservative media that turn off the very voters Frum argues the GOP needs back: women with college degrees, independent voters and young people. “A lot of young people like the president, stylistically. We want them to know there is an intelligent opposition to him, to what he’s actually done,” said Frum.

Though anti-Obama sentiment is on the rise, Frum said Obama “ran into the entrenched defense of the Medicare status quo” this summer in the angry town halls and cautions the GOP against reading the wrong message.

“Republicans should find the healthcare status quo as unacceptable as Democrats do, because the growth in public and private healthcare spending is devouring wages,” said Frum. “If Republicans base their appeal on the interests of America’s retirees, it’s hard to see how they can accomplish any other Republican goals.”

Despite his warnings to Republican officeholders, Frum said the party’s problem is not with elected officials but with what he called the “hysterical conservative echo chamber.” And he put it more bluntly on his site recently: “We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans and damages the country. It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to join us at New Majority in emancipating ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical and the most truthless.”

Not surprisingly, Frum’s critics call him unsavory names and accuse him of appeasing leftists. And he is open to being wrong. But he sees a coming test, a window of opportunity for his fledgling movement a few years down the road, should the GOP fail to flip control of the House and Senate, Republican Party identity still doesn’t grow and “our base inhibits the freedom of action of a credible national candidate,” who likely goes on to lose in 2012.

“And then my argument takes hold,” said Frum, with the smile of a patient man.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.