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on November 9, 2012
Even in the age of digital self-publishing, one might reasonably wonder how David Frum was able to release a book called Why Romney Lost within two days of Governor Romney having done so. Two reasons are immediately evident. First, the book is short. My first read occupied less than two hours, and I wasn't in a particular hurry. This should only be of concern if you consider the $3.99 price tag excessive. I do not, and indeed, I appreciate the tight focus of short pieces such as this.

The second reason is that the explanation promised in the title essentially amounts to, "Romney lost because he was chosen as the leader of an unpopular party." In other words, Frum's book is more a diagnosis of the ills of the GOP than an autopsy of the Romney campaign. Much of its content will be familiar to readers of his blog, columns and essays.

Frum begins by making the case that Obama was vulnerable, but I believe he somewhat overstates it. Most political science models based on fundamentals predicted a narrow Obama win, and exit polling suggests that a majority of voters did not blame the president for economic conditions, accepted the campaign's argument that no one could have fixed the economy fully in four years and were confident that the economy was recovering, however slowly. Obama never surrendered his Electoral College lead in aggregated polling.

That assessment of his vulnerability aside, we're informed that Obama has presided over the largest expansion of government since LBJ, though Frum doesn't speak to the extent to which that expansion has been temporary emergency action in response to the worst economic and financial catastrophe since the Great Depression. Perhaps Frum believes that Obama really does want to run GM. And does the expansion of the national security state and the global war on terror, which Obama did not initiate but has most assuredly perpetuated, count as big government? Or is it only government action intended to save jobs and restore economic growth that needs be limited? We don't know, because Frum doesn't say.

Having swiftly indicted the president for his first term, we then move into the heart of Frum's argument, which, as mentioned previously, has remarkably little to do with Mitt Romney and his merits as a candidate, or lack thereof. There is no discussion of tax returns or Bain Capital, no consideration of whether a more moderate choice for a running mate might have appealed to a broader section of the electorate. All of those things and more may have contributed to Romney's loss, but again, this book really isn't about that.

Frum argues that the Republican Party has become too ideologically extreme - an argument that just about everyone who isn't an ideologically extreme Republican is prepared to accept. Frum devotes much of his attention to social issues: the GOP should accept same-sex marriage and moderate on abortion...or at least stop talking about it. The "crackpot" wing of the party should be consigned to the basement. These "crackpots" seem to be the most radical element of the religious and social conservative faction - the rape philosophers, misogynists, contraception prohibitionists, nativists, birthers and bigots. There is hardly anything here to which one might object. There is also no analysis of whether adopting these needed reforms would allow the GOP to pick up enough minorities, women and social liberals to make up for the loss of the rape philosophers, misogynists, nativists, birthers and bigots. It's left as an unstated assumption, but I'm not sure it's one that would withstand deeper analysis or indeed a real-world test at the polls.

In terms of domestic policy, Frum argues that the GOP needs to offer solutions for income inequality, working- and middle-class wage stagnation, climate change and other 21st century issues confronting the country. He does not suggest what any of these solutions might look like, and that's a disappointing miss in a book like this.

Frum also accepts the need for universal health care, and his criticisms of Obamacare fall mainly on the taxes that pay for it. Frum suggests replacing them with taxes on carbon emissions or consumption.

Despite the absence of concrete proposals, this is all perfectly reasonable, and it leaves one wondering why David Frum isn't a New Democrat. Why all this effort to reform the GOP when there's another party full of people who already agree with him? Frum is probably too far to the left on a whole range of these issues to be considered a Blue Dog, but certainly he'd find a comfortable home in the less conservative, centrist middle of the Democratic Party. This is something Frum's book shares with various "third way" and centrist manifestos, which enthusiastically embrace the Democratic policy program while sniffing disdainfully at the Democratic pols seeking to implement that program by grinding away in the sausage factory on Capitol Hill.

I suspect that in Frum's case there is more to it than that, and the good stuff is hidden in what he doesn't say. Despite Frum's calls for the moderation of the party, George W. Bush's former speechwriter is still a Bushie. Indeed, the clearest statement of Frum's position is that the GOP ought to return to the ideas that were explored in the later Bush years. Frum also states clearly that Bush-era tax rates are a pillar of the Republican Party, though he provides no economic defense of them. For supply-siders, the voodoo is to be believed, not analyzed, evaluated or tested.

On foreign policy, Frum remains a neoconservative - unchanged, apparently, from the thinker who authored the "Axis of Evil" speech. You couldn't divine this from the pages of Why Romney Lost, of course, because Frum has almost nothing to say about foreign policy. We do get some hints early on in the criticism of the Obama administration. A credible conservative party is more important than ever, we are told, because Obama "intends a rapid shrinkage of the U.S. defense budget, even as the Arab spring rapidly freezes into Islamist winter." Even worse, the President "persists in his wrong-headed hopes that acquiescing to Islamist take-overs of the Middle Eastern states will mitigate Islamist anti-Americanism." One could write a book considerably longer than Why Romney Lost just examining these two passages in greater depth.

This, then, is why Frum could never contemplate switching parties. But if he wants to tell Republicans how they should moderate their ideology, a reckoning with neoconservatism, the Iraq War and the whole Bush foreign policy record seems critical, because it remains deeply unpopular with American voters. The absence of this reckoning is conspicuous, but it's clear why Frum doesn't want to go there. Unlike social conservatism, this element of Republican ideology is one that Frum heartily endorses. I'm not the problem - those other guys are. But at some point one suspects that Frum will need to grapple with the fact that, based on surveys and exit polls, the GOP has surrendered the voters' trust on foreign policy issues to Democrats for the first time in decades.

And of course, we will see similar post-mortems from other factions within the Republican Party. We will see analyses from nativist paleocons that are the mirror image of Frum's - no discussion of immigration or other social issues, but a searing indictment of neoconservatism and the taint of Bush-Cheney and the Iraq War. There is no telling which strain will emerge the dominant one, but my money is on the neocons.

Ultimately, Why Romney Lost is a useful summation of Frum's views on what ails the Republican Party. But it also reveals that the author has his own blind spots, that he remains at least partly in the bubble. The GOP needs to reform itself to appeal to a changed America. But David Frum needs to recognize that it isn't just demographics. The experience of the Bush era and Iraq War changed America, too.

For reviews and commentary on political nonfiction and current affairs, visit Beltway Ink at beltwayink.blogspot.com.
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on November 8, 2012
The truth hurts, but I'm so glad that someone has the guts to tell Republicans what they probably don't want to hear, but absolutely must come to terms with. Frum will surely get attacked for this frank and honest assessment of the state of the GOP. As a life-long conservative, I am saddened by the current "conservative" movement, which exists in some sort of alternate universe, full of anger and devoid of intellectual honesty. Thank God, WF Buckley was not around to see the 2012 election cycle!
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on November 8, 2012
Rather than focus on the immediate machinations (Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie's praise of President Obama's handling of the storm, superior "get out the vote" operations by the Democrats, etc.) Frum takes a scholarly step back and presents some powerful facts.

In a nutshell, the title of this book is deliberate. David Frum argues that President Barack Obama didn't win Tuesday's election as much as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lost it.

First some background

Frum is a 52-year-old Canadian who wrote speeches for George W. Bush about the economy. (He was a Canadian citizen when he joined the administration.) He is also hard to typecast.

In his 1994 debut book Dead Right Frum "expressed intense dissatisfaction with supply-siders, evangelicals, and nearly all Republican politicians," as characterized by the late conservative columnist Robert Novak.

But in a 2009 Newsweek column entitled Why Rush Is Wrong, Frum insists his Republican credentials are sincere: "I'm a conservative Republican, have been all my adult life. I volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980. I've attended every Republican convention since 1988. I was president of the Federalist Society chapter at my law school, worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and wrote speeches for President Bush--not the "Read My Lips" Bush, the "Axis of Evil" Bush. I served on the Giuliani campaign in 2008 and voted for John McCain in November. I supported the Iraq War and (although I feel kind of silly about it in retrospect) the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I could go on, but you get the idea."

So back to the book

Frum argues that the Republican party has become the party of "yesterday's America," noting that while the GOP won 5 out of 6 elections from 1968 to 1988 by a comfortable average 5 point margin, since 1988, Republicans have won the majority of the popular vote only once out of 6 presidential elections and then by the slimmest of margins: 50.73%.

Frum notes that while Obama is the most activist and expansionist president since Lyndon Johnson, the congressional Republican leadership made a series of miscalculations that (accurately) portrayed them as weak and ineffectual, including their refusal to work out a compromise on the Affordable Care Act and stalling an increase in the debt ceiling to push Paul Ryan's budget which had zero chance of passing and wouldn't have balanced the budget until 2040.

And while all of this was going on, the GOP's answer to the job crisis was to lower taxes on wealthier Americans while offering nothing to convince middle class Americans they could help them afford college and medical care or even stay in their homes.

With eyes glued to Fox News Channel and ears tuned to talk radio, conservatives were convinced that an African(-American?) in the White House was secretly plotting with Arabs to launch jihad against America. They thought that voters in swing states faced with losing their homes and jobs would vote on Fast and Furious or the lax security at a consulate in Libya.

These are the conservatives Romney was speaking to when he wrote off 47% of Americans he felt were sitting on a couch, waiting for Uncle Sam to feed, clothe, medicate and house them.

Frum goes on to state an incredible array of outrageous comments and characterizations from conservative media flacks that successfully drove a wedge between the GOP and black and Hispanic voters. My personal favorite is the line from Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asking whether the 47% should even be allowed to vote.

Frum observes the irony that "by insisting so emphatically on ferocious, militant ideology, the GOP rewards most those who believe the least, because only cynics and nihilists will make the transition from the real world of governance to the make-believe world of party purity tests."

After observing that the current conservative ideology is completely foreign to the next generation of Americans (and over half of those under 18 are non-white) Frum presents a strong note of caution: "To be a patriot is to love your country as it is. Those who seem to despise half of America will never be trusted to govern any of it. Those who cherish only the country's past will not be entrusted with its future."
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VINE VOICEon November 9, 2012
I'm interested in David Frum's thinking--which, in an intelligent way, can challenge my own preconceptions as a progressive. So I bought his new ebook, read it, and was not disappointed. A good analysis of what happened in the last election. Then I happened to watch Frum on Morning Joe pointing out among other things that everyone sitting there on the panel had health insurance. He seemed rather uncomfortable with the fact that a lot of other people don't. I think Frum is a nice guy, in addition to being smart. I also think he is addressing a party that doesn't exist. The Republican party, as far as I can see, seems to be about 1) imposing fundamentalist religious views on people and 2) giving greater tax cuts to the rich (comforting the comfortable). What else does it have to offer? I'm not being snide. I really don't know. Oh yeah, there was a moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts who had this neat way of getting all the people in his state health insurance. I might have considered voting for that guy. Whatever happened to him? (As Frum describes it, he became a pretzel.)

This book is an interesting analysis of the ills of the Republican party. Frum suggests ways the party can come back from their latest defeat. But I think he has constructed a fantasy Republican party, and he loves it or at least gives it allegiance. His party does not bow to the Tea Party or Limbaugh. It doesn't rally around an atrocity like the Ryan Budget. It's pro-science. It's about freedom and individual responsibility and intelligent responses to America's problems. It's really a great party and it is open to Frum's advice. Only trouble is, it doesn't exist.
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on November 10, 2012
I am a fiscally conservative independent nervous about Obama's budget and tax policies, and very suspicious of certain anti-market aspects of Obamacare. Nevertheless, I supported Obama with my dollars, my voice, and my vote. In voting for Obama, I was voting not only against Romney, but against the angry ideology evinced by the offensive and irrational behavior of so many in the Republican party. David Frum's concise essay explains my vote.
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VINE VOICEon November 9, 2012
As a progressive Democrat who believes that we need a vibrant two party system, I thought it would be instructive for me to read. It was.

I think Frum puts out a strong case for the need for Republicans to find a centrist position to run from even though I don't believe the party can make these changes until its own demographics change. The radical right simply can't engage on any reasonable basis as long as they control the primary process and any change with that won't happen any time soon. I expect you'll see them review this book and pillory Frum without even reading it.

He always writes well and I appreciate that even if I don't agree with many of his policy positions.

I think that it's sad that those who most need to read this won't.
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on November 9, 2012
Can it be true that us conservatives who are actually paying attention to facts have a spokesman?

This book is a rational, reasonable defense of conservatism while acknowledging our evolving social, demographic and environmental realities.

Frum uses the failed Romney campaign as a case study to shed light on an even more troublesome reality; if conservatives don't find ways to broaden their message and nominate candidates that are more aligned with our culture, we risk becoming a permanent minority party.

I hope Frum is just warming up because we need more of this reasoned, thoughtful AND inclusive commentary.
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on November 10, 2012
"21st century conservatism must become economically inclusive, environmentally responsible, culturally modern, and intellectually credible." David Frum - Why Romney Lost

An almost founding fathers worthy statement, call to action for the GOP. Mr. Frum analyzes the Republican Party and the influence of the conservative media. The famous Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts," has never been more relevant or more ignored. The ability and inclination for some to choose their own facts is one of Mr. Frum's assertions (based on fact) as to why his party is losing traction in our modern society.

From Why Romney Lost. "A pair of surveys from Farleigh Dickinson University in 2011 and 2012 found that those people that most consistently watched Fox News were the least informed on basic questions of fact." Don't tell them (Fox viewers) that.

Why Romney Lost is a GREAT ebook. Short, direct, and I think 100% correct. Although an analysis and plan to deliver the Republican Party a message and mission that is relevant to the 21st century, not a book strictly for republicans. This book is a great read for Americans.

I cannot see how the GOP can eliminate the anger and hate from their party members. If they do, along with accepting that the social wars they continue to wage are not meant for modern big message small government, they could be a party that improves the lives of the middle class. Americans want a viable 2nd, even 3rd party, and the GOP is too fringe in it's current tail wags the dog structure to be a national alternative to the Democratic Party.

My #1 takeaway from Why Romney Lost? Reince Priebus should not be the Chairman of the RNC. David Frum should chair the RNC. Unless he decides to run for POTUS in 2016.

"Job holders deserve equal consideration with job creators." Testify Mr Frum!

And thank you for a thoughtful book which I hope is read by everyone, even people that may disagree. Your opinion is widely held, just not easily broadcast.
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on November 9, 2012
A compelling case for a more centrist Republican party.

The title for the review is from the last paragraph of the e-book. It captures the primary reason why Republicans lost my vote (note: I didn't vote against Romney, I voted against Republicans).

Here's hoping Republicans get the message and stop shooting the messengers.
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on November 9, 2012
In December 2011 I left the republican party. I left for a bunch of reasons. All of the hatred spoken, all of the hypocrisy and all of the disappointments. I love the republican party. I couldn't take all of the talk of small government, yet have a party believe in the largest government possible when it comes to social issues. I left a war loving party. A party that thinks it is OK to imprison citizens indefinitely and do drone strikes on other nations. I left a party that is fearful of immigrants, Muslims and atheists (I am an atheist).

I also left a party knowing that if they change some of those things, I will be back. This book made me hopeful of a future republican party. A party that can win voters, not by becoming fiscally irresponsible and not by giving up their social beliefs. But by respecting freedom and individual choices. I believe a party that is fiscally responsible, and respects others social views will resonate with Americans of all sorts.

I can't say enough good things about this book. Spot on. Let's hope there is a change in the winds.
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