Conservative political commentator David Frum blasted the current Republican party in front of a packed crowd at Claremont McKenna College March 5.
Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, CNN contributor, and speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, told audience members at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum that he was surprised Trump earned the Republican nomination for president.
He attributed Trump’s victory to the “rotten core” of the GOP, a party he said has become out of touch. The political party that used to solve the country’s problems no longer knows how to do so, he said.
When Frum graduated from Yale University in 1982, he said, the nation faced many challenges for which only conservatives had answers. In the midst of economic turmoil, Frum saw Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party jumpstart America.
However, the situation today is vastly different, he said, leaving the GOP with three options: “retreating from politics” to wage a culture war as a minority faction, “retreating from democracy” by disenfranchising Democratic voters or increasing turnout among Republicans, or “offering something different” to better appeal to voters.
Frum noted a lack of citizen engagement in the 2016 election, which had one of the lowest rates of voter turnout since World War II. He said Americans were unenthusiastic about the election because they were forced to choose the “lesser of two evils.”
“Donald Trump was in some ways a punishment for this lack of citizen engagement,” he said.
Frum also talked about gun violence and the recent resurgence of the debate over firearms in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
He said he does not believe that legislation can fix this issue, given how widespread guns have become. Instead, he proposed a “highly individualistic” movement akin to the historical temperance movement that used social policing instead of laws to foster change.
However, he did not foresee an easy fight. “The gun is the ultimate symbol of male empowerment at a time of male disempowerment,” he said.
A range of views were present among the audience members. One student in the audience asked Frum who a young conservative should look to in the conservative movement.
“I think the conservative movement is finished. It’s history,” Frum said. “I think the conservative disposition is forever.” Frum told the student to look for leadership in himself instead of in others.
Frum said the U.S. is in a uniquely perilous situation in an interview with TSL after the talk.
“We live in a time where the democratic idea is in question and is in doubt in a way it has not been for a long time,” he said. “I think it’s possible for the United States to be touched by tragedy and I see a lot of ominous possibilities for the decline of democratic institutions, for civic dissention, and a lot of possibilities even for violence.”
Still, he found reason to fight on.
“I hope [the audience] heard a possibility for conservative politics after Trump that’s relevant to the future, and that’s inclusive and respectful to democratic procedures,” Frum said in an interview with TSL after the talk. “I hope … whatever their own views, that they heard perspectives or information that allow them to develop their own ideas in a richer and better informed way.”
Henry DeRuff CM ’18, who describes himself as a “progressively liberal” person, said he noticed Frum’s lack of attention to identity politics.
“I think that if he actually came to the college campus and listened, he’d see that we’re … not wrapped up in these things because they’re provocative necessarily, but also because they matter,” DeRuff said. “I think he could do better to address identity politics and I don’t think that the Republican Party will really be able to move forward unless it does.”