David Frum, the conservative pundit and former Bush White House speechwriter, has left his perch at the American Enterprise Institute — with some observers wondering whether the move was triggered by his recent criticism of the GOP.
Today, Frum posted on his blog a note he had sent to AEI President Arthur Brooks:
This will memorialize our conversation at lunch today. Effective immediately, my position as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute is terminated. I appreciate the consideration that delays my emptying of my office until after my return from travel next week. Premises will be vacated no later than April 9.
I have had many fruitful years at the American Enterprise Institute, and I do regret this abrupt and unexpected conclusion of our relationship.
Very truly yours,
Frum has lately emerged as perhaps the most prominent internal critic of the modern conservative movement. On Sunday, in a blog post that received widespread attention, he lambasted the Republicans’ no-compromise strategy on health-care reform, writing “[t]his time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.”
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the split with AEI was not prompted by Frum’s criticism of the GOP. Rather, Brooks expressed concern that Frum had been occupied with other projects outside of AEI, and wasn’t a sufficiently active member of the AEI scholars community. Out of fairness to other AEI scholars, Brooks asked Frum to forgo his salary — an offer Frum angrily rejected.
In a statement provided to TPMmuckraker, an AEI spokeswoman said:
While AEI makes it a practice not to discuss personnel matters, I can say that David Frum is an original thinker and a friend to many at AEI.
We are pleased to have welcomed him as a colleague for seven years, and his decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him.
Frum declined to comment to TPMmuckraker, but this afternoon he told the PlumLine that Brooks had asked him to work without pay, because of the think-tank’s financial difficulties, and had assured him that the move had nothing to do with Frum’s recent criticism of the GOP.
None of this has stopped speculation to the contrary, however. In a blog post of his own, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett — who himself was fired by a conservative think tank in 2005 after criticizing President Bush’s policies — wrote today that Frum recently had told him that AEI scholars had been “ordered” not to speak publicly on the subject of health-care reform “because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote this afternoon: “One has to assume that this is a response to his outspokenness about the Republican failure on health reform.”
Frum’s criticism of the GOP’s health-care stance was by no means his only recent trip off the conservative reservation. He has long been critical of Sarah Palin, and last year penned a Newsweek cover story that called Rush Limbaugh a “walking stereotype of self-indulgence.”
Late Update: Frum tells Politico he thinks that “economic pressure” from donors was involved:
There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand. But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.