STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Like many conservatives in the United States, the writer David Frum is trying to figure out how Republicans lost the favor of so many voters.
Have you had occasion of looking back at your own writings, and as you glance at something, you cringe? Because whatever you wrote then isn't true anymore.
Mr. DAVID FRUM (Author, "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush"): Not more than 40 or 50 times a week.
INSKEEP: David Frum is a former speechwriter for President Bush. He contributed to famous statements like the president's pronouncement of an axis of evil. Now, Frum says the party has lost its way, and he is planning to start a new Web site to encourage Republicans to re-think their approach.
Mr. FRUM: You don't want to forget who you are as you adapt. Republicans are the party of limited government, lower taxes, pro-business, more freedom; that's all understood. Then you take that philosophy, and you listen to people when they tell you what's bothering them. And if they say, you know, I'm a lot more bothered about healthcare than I am about taxes, you don't say, well, we have a nice tax cut for you.
INSKEEP: In his forthcoming Web venture, David Frum says he wants to hear from more than just conservatives. He wants to hear from people who he says conservatives need to win back.
What makes you want to re-think your conservatism?
Mr. FRUM: I have been brooding about conservatism since almost the day after the 2004 election. I was very involved in that election, obviously. And at the time, many people experienced it as a great triumph. That wasn't how it seemed to me; it felt to me like a series of near-death experiences.
INSKEEP: Even though President Bush won and Republicans expanded their majorities in Congress.
Mr. FRUM: It wasn't that he had won the argument; it was that the Republicans managed to eke out a little bit more of a last push to bring their people to the polls. But when you looked at who our people were and when you looked at who their people were, you realize they had room to grow and we didn't.
INSKEEP: What do you mean?
Mr. FRUM: I mean, that when you are the party of the old and they are the party of the young; when you are the party of people who don't have college degrees and they are the part of people who do have college degrees; when you are the party of white America and they're the party that runs in - the strongest in non-white America; and all of their constituencies are growing and yours are inevitably bound to shrink or at least remain stable; then you have to confront the prospect that their reserves are greater. The other side is tapping into the more vibrant and growing parts of America. Your message is not reaching those parts of America, and that is not the way a dynamic party flourishes.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about one key thing that you said there. What evidence suggests that Republicans are the party of people without college degrees and that Democrats are the party of people with college degrees?
Mr. FRUM: Historically, Republicans dominated the college degree market. If you looked at voting and related it to education attainment, you saw Democrats did best with people of more than six years of post-secondary education and they did best among high-school drop-outs, either - the extremes of the bell curve. The Republicans dominated at the middle, people with four to six years of education, BAs, BSCs, MBAs, that kind of person. That has been deteriorating since 1988. In 2004, George Bush still won a thin majority among people with college degrees, but when you looked at the trajectory, it was clear that wasn't going to happen next time. And indeed, this time Barack Obama won post-graduates by 18 points, and he won people with BAs by two points.
INSKEEP: I've heard some Republican officials talk about - or complain about - their party's anti-intellectualism, as they will phrase it. Has the Republican Party actively pushed away the more educated parts of society with their rhetoric or with their positions on the different issues?
Mr. FRUM: Parties don't deliberately intend to send people away, but they make choices and one thing excludes others. For example, if you are going to be a party that resists an environmental message, you are going to find yourself out of sorts, at odds, with voters who care a lot about it. If you are going to be a party with a more and more emphatic religious identity, that the people in secular America, which is a big part of America, they're going - their backs are going to get up a little bit. Now, their - I'm not suggesting that Republicans need to change their values or junk wholesale their points of view. I mean, one of the things that successful party evolutions show is - it's actually fairly subtle changes in tone and style that take a party from minority back to majority.
INSKEEP: One other thing, David Frum, that I'd like to ask about: It would be easy to say, and it might even be true to say, that Democrats did so much better among minority voters in 2008 simply because they ran an African-American candidate. But I wonder if there's something more to it. Is the Republican Party doing something that has driven away minority voters, immigrants and others?
Mr. FRUM: Well, when you ask about the minority question, you actually put your feet at the entrance to two very different paths. One of them is to say, look, the growth area is with the Latino population; we have to have a policy that appeals to the Latinos. And George Bush and Karl Rove were trying to do this. This is the population that is somewhat, at least in polls, it shows itself to be quite socially conservative, but is very poor and getting poorer. So, what we need is an economic policy that is much more populist, combined with a social policy that remains very conservative and let us try to chase that voter bloc. My own view is I don't think that's going to work. I don't think that the Republican - the rest of the Republican coalition will allow the party to be as populist economically as it would need to be to win over this poor group of voters.
INSKEEP: You mean that if you do the things that are necessary to reach out to Latinos, you're going to lose other parts of the coalition.
Mr. FRUM: You going blow the whole coalition to pieces, because are you going to be the party of universal state, free-at-the-point-of-consumption healthcare? I mean, that's what people who are making less than $30,000 a year, which is where most Latinos in America are, that's what they want. Or are you going to say, look, we're a center-right party? Every industrial country has a center-left party and a center-right party; America shouldn't be any different. The Democrats are the center-left party. We're going to be the party of markets, of freedom, of business, and that means we have to confront our losses among the much larger group of college graduates. And when I talk about rebuilding a new majority, the Republicans begin with tremendous strength in the area national security. They begin as the party of freedom and business and limited government. And that's the route back to majority status.
INSKEEP: David Frum, good luck on your Web venture.
Mr. FRUM: Thank you very much.
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INSKEEP: David Frum's new Web site is called newmajority.com. It is launching the weekend before the presidential inauguration.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.