I don't want to kick Frum when he is down, and getting to appear on the Larry King show is no compensation for losing a steady (and to me, suprisingly large) paycheck. I take him at his word that he is trying to articulate a viable right of center politics under contemporary cricumstances. I just think that his approach involves giving up too many principles, uses too little strategic imagination, and will do no long term good to conservatives or America. I think that his now famous Waterloo article is a good example of the type. Frum was upset that Republicans did not try hard enough to "compromise" with the White House. From what I gather, this compromise would have involved accepting a nationalized program of government madated comprehensive health care prepayment, in return for a different funding mechanism (he seems to want a carbon tax rather than Obamacare's taxes on high earners) and restrained Medicaid spending. This is almost a parody of Ross Douthat's unfriendly description of liberal Republicans as trying to "head in the same direction as the Democratics, but more slowly, with more attention to balancing the nation's books." No thanks.
Frum is also an eager but unconvincing salesman for how his more socially liberal, environmentally statist conservatism represents the future. Frum argues that if Tom Campbell, Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina, win statewide in Califormia, it will signal a win for "middle-class opportunity and social modernism." Now you don't think Frum may be talking about himself now do you? I have two problems with this analysis. First, so many kinds of Republicans are likely to win so many races this year that everyone will be able to point at how their kind of Republican (Rubio, Kirk, Portman, Toomey whoever) represents the way forward for the party, and all of them will be seeing what they want to see. Second, why does Frum think he needs to look into the future to see how his kind of conservatism works?
Who better personified the Frum conservative combination of social liberalism, green preening and "fiscal conservatism" than Arnold Schwarzenegger? He won two statwide races but, from a conservative perspective, it was a barren victory. He was able to win over some social liberals by hugging them on the social positions and offering the hope of fiscal competence in the face of Democratic mismanagement. He was able to make some marginal gains among nonwhites by distancing himself from the toxic conservative Republican brand - toxic in California that is. The problem was that the win was not really based on winning the voters over to shared principles or a durable issue agenda aside from better economic management. He was hired to be social liberalism's Mini-Me and economic liberalism's finance coach. The state's normal coalitional dynamics reasserted themselves and Schwarzenegger moved farther and father left in order to buy off liberal-leaning interest groups and survive.
In California and the rest of the country, there is no real alternative to doing the hard work of recruiting constituencies that are currently alientated by political conservatism, and doing so on a set of principles that can unite the current conservative base and potential converts. Bob McDonnell in Virginia has given us some insight in how to do that, though I don't think all of the answers are found in his campaign. The alternative of social liberalism + green statism + Obamacare Lite + fiscal conservative (but not very conservative) rhetoric promises policy disaster.