Are Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter Good for Conservatives? Horowitz vs. Frum, Round Three - by Jamie Glazov

David Horowitz and David Frum continue their debate.


In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we continue the debate between David Horowitz and David Frum that started off about the role of bold talk radio hosts in the Conservative Movement’s quest to defend America. Horowitz and Frum disagree about whether Fox News’ Glenn Beck is an asset or a liability. On September 25, they fought Round Two of this debate. Today they join us for Round Three, as the debate enters a new terrain. . .

FP: David Frum and David Horowitz, welcome back to Frontpage Symposium.

David Frum, what is your response to David Horowitz’s comments in Round Two?

Frum: David, I gather you're declining my invitation to sponsor a joint study of the 9/12ers? Too bad! Leaving these issues unstudied makes us vulnerable to convenient myths.

For example:

You claim that the same-sex marriage issue won the 2004 election for George W. Bush.

This is almost certainly not correct. The 2004 election turned on the state of Ohio, site of an intensely contested same-sex marriage voter initiative. Yet when you compare the votes cast for Bush in 2000 and 2004, you see that Bush's vote increased much less in Ohio than it did in the rest of the country. In fact, there were 39 states where Bush's vote increased more than it did in Ohio - and 31 of those states had no SSM initative on the ballot. (You can see the evidence in attractive graphic format here)

You claim that phones "began ringing off the hook" with Sarah Palin's selection as vice president. If you mean to say that Palin added to John McCain's vote, this statement is again almost certainly wrong.

No national candidate has ever recorded as steep a decline in public approval as Sarah Palin did over the 10 weeks between  the Republican convention and voting day, 2008. In the single month of September, her approval rating among white women dropped by 21 points; among white independent women, by 24 points.

Palin's unpopularity did something that no previous vice presidential nomination in had ever done: she dragged the whole ticket down with her. As Palin's numbers plunged, John McCain's followed hers down. He began his poll decline on Sept. 3, two weeks before the failure of Lehmann Brothers. Palin's single worst poll of the campaign, in mid-October, coincided neatly with McCain's By contrast, Biden's and Obama's approval numbers moved quite independently of each other.

(The blogger Ezra Klein has some interesting charts on this last point here.)

You say: "In fact, the party identification poll numbers for Republicans are currently rising right alongside and in step with (and because of) the rising Fox ratings."

That's unlikely to be correct either.

Republican identification remains lower today (27%) than as recently as 2005 (35%). Democratic identification is slightly higher (35% vs. 33%). GOP numbers look better in the fall of 2009 than they did in 2008 only because of a small shift in the number of independents who say they "lean Republican." (From 12% to 15%.)

(These are Gallup numbers, and you can see them here.)

Is Fox driving this shift? It's hard to imagine so. The Fox audience is an intensely committed Republican audience: almost 90% voted McCain-Palin in 2008. Independents just aren't watching. They are much more likely to be affected by such facts as the miserable employment numbers than Glenn Beck's monologues.

The false premises in your argument lead you to erroneous conclusions.

You think that conservatives lose when they are insufficiently vocal, insufficiently confrontational, insufficiently mobilized.  You see a national majority in Palin's politics of cultural grievance, and the paranoid alienation Beck offers his Fox television audience. But the evidence is against you on all counts.

Angry protest politics did not work for the Left in the 1960s. Angry protest politics will not work for the right in the 2000s.

That's not to deny the importance of this bloc of voters or the significance of their concerns. Rather, I'm saying that we have to join this bloc to the other blocs conservatives also need - married women, the educated, upwardly mobile immigrants. The wild, extreme and sometimes racially tinged talk we unfortunately hear from the most visible personalities on the right is detrimental to this effort.

Who should understand this problem better than you, with your long study of the failure of left radicalism. Nor have you been shy about emphatically warning conservatives about the dangers of thinking the enemy of my enemy is always my friend. Reviewing your friend Ann Coulter's book on Joe McCarthy, you said:

"The problem with Coulter's book is that she is not willing to concede that McCarthy was, in fact, demagogic in any sense at all, or that his recklessness injured the anti-Communist cause. Ron Radosh, Harvey Klehr and John Haynes have distinguished themselves as historians by documenting the Communist menace that many liberals discounted. But they have also documented the irresponsible antics of McCarthy, which undermined the anti-Communist cause. Coulter dismisses such conservative criticisms of McCarthy as caving in to the liberals. She is wrong."

With just a few changes of name, I'll let those wise words stand as my summation of the challenge presented to contemporary conservatism by Glenn Beck and the inflammatory personalities of talk radio.

Horowitz: You’ve gone over my head with this one David, or maybe it’s around the bend. Or off the deep end. What are you expecting the joint study of 9/12ers to show? That they had AK-47s concealed under their parasols?

What really puzzles me is how you could imagine that attitudes registered in polls of participants in an event which took place in September 2009 might have anything to do with election results in Ohio in 2004 or nationally in 2008? Polls register what’s happening in the present moment. They tell you nothing about the future. Just ask George Bush. Political results are determined by the way you fight the battle, not the way you shuffle attitudes that are set in stone (the point is that they’re not).

I don’t have my polling data in front of me for the 2004 election, but I will bet you anything that the record Republican turnout which won that election was driven by the defense of marriage initiatives in key states like Missouri, and what you say about Ohio doesn’t change my mind on this for reasons too tedious to go over. There were many states up for grabs in that election and the only force I’m aware of in the Republican party that can get tens of thousands of precinct workers to care about who wins is the religious right. Conservatives are by nature not joiners, not activists, and unless they have a religious passion they generally don’t get passionate about political issues enough to knock on doors. I can see this with my own eyes. I don’t need polls to tell me.

Also the Sarah Palin you see today, not to mention three years from now, bears little relation to the Sarah Palin who was thrust suddenly and without preparation -- and in a fashion unprecedented in American political history -- from obscurity to the center of the national spotlight. I think she handled herself extraordinarily well in that experience given the way the incompetent and malicious McCain team failed to protect her. But she undoubtedly carries some heavy baggage from it. At this point, I think she’s doing a fine job remaking herself – no thanks to conservative snipers like yourself. Whether she succeeds is going to be up to her. But she generates an enthusiasm that no centrist Republican does, or probably can (although that too remains to be seen). The difference between you and me is that I want to see her get her fair shot and you don’t.

BTW your account of Palin dragging McCain down is ridiculous. First, it was McCain who dragged Palin down by putting her in front of the network sharks unprepared. Second, despite the savagery of the campaign against her, she remained so popular among the Republican ranks that McCain would not let her campaign on her own but insisted she be at his events so that weakness of his personal support would not be exposed. Third, in McCain’s fall to Palin in the final weeks aren’t you forgetting the Lehman collapse and the financial crash – not to mention the absolute incoherence of McCain in the debates? (Which contrasted dramatically with Palin’s performance against Biden.) Or do you think McCain’s offer to bail out $300 billion in bad mortgages was an innovative idea for a Republican candidate? I could go on and on but why bother? I don’t know a single conservative – or even Republican – who was enthusiastic about McCain. Whereas Palin’s supporters remained enthusiastic for her right to the bitter end. Your passionate dislike of Palin is fogging your lenses and causing you to rewrite history.

And why is all this so important to you now anyway? We’re three years out from the next election. Let the candidates show their stuff. If you think Palin is such a menace that you have to snuff her at the starting gate you obviously have no confidence in the good sense of the Republican electorate, and that my friend is a serious problem indeed.

I do think that Republicans need leaders who are strong, passionate, and credible to Republican constituencies, and who can ignite their passions. But you are putting words in my mouth when you say I have decided that Palin is the one to forge a Republican coalition that will take us to victory in 2012. I think Sarah Palin is an extraordinary woman who, along with George Bush, has been the target of one the two most hateful political campaigns in modern times. And Bush was utterly destroyed by the Democrats' attacks so that he did not really have a second term -- which is a good deal of what we are suffering from now. And which shows that such attacks work.

Sarah Palin has shown herself to be a resilient woman who will not fold under attack (and this puts her head and shoulders above McCain and most other Republicans). Her mettle is about to be tested. I want her to have that test. I guess you and Republicans like you are part of the test since you are determined to smite her in advance. Unlike yourself, I am a big tent Republican and think the coalition is strengthened by competition.

But contrary to your suggestion I do not know at this point who would be the best Republican candidate for 2012. A lot depends on events. A lot depends how candidates like Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty and Romney handle themselves in the face of events. I think Republicans generally want a fighter. You can be a centrist and a fighter. Why not? But in the first nine months of the Obama Administration, it is Palin who has set the standard in facing down the Left.

You say that angry protests did not work for the Left during the 60s. Are you forgetting that our angry protests were aimed at the Democrats and that by destroying the Democrats we elected Reagan governor of California, and Nixon president in 1968? Psychotic anger worked for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 and brought them victories in Congress and the White House. What can you be thinking?

When you refer to wild, extreme, sometimes racially tinged talk coming from the Right who are you talking about? Certainly not Palin or Huckabee, the two leading candidates of the religious wing of our party, who are models of public decency. Who then? And what racially tinged talk? Some Georgia congressman whom nobody can name and who didn’t realize what he was saying when he said it? By contrast, the Democratic Party is teeming with racists, which doesn’t seem to hurt them among so-called liberals. There is no George Wallace (a Democrat) in our ranks, nor for that matter a Maxine Waters, a Diane Watson, a Cynthia McKinney, a Charlie Rangel, all raging racial demagogues. That being the case why should you worry about fringe behavior at all, particularly when Republicans across the spectrum are so well behaved?

It seems to me you are suffering from a kind of political Stockholm syndrome. You inhabit a mental universe shaped by media like Newsweek and the New York Review of Books, in which you are a hostage of the Left. As a result you’ve absorbed some of their attitudes, and look at Palin and other non-U conservatives through their eyes, instead of your own.

Since you’ve dragged my friend Ann Coulter’s name into this, let me say as I said on Larry King Live (with Charlie Rangel’s eyes rolling skyward off the screen): Ann Coulter is a national treasure. She is a sword of justice relentlessly skewering liberal hypocrites. I love Ann for that alone. And she is wittier than her opposite numbers – Al Franken (God help us) and Bill Maher. Unlike them she is a big hearted and civilized human being, which is what a conservative should be. By contrast, Franken and Maher are typical liberals: mean-spirited, bigoted and personally nasty (although Maher seems to have a soft spot for Ann,) and moral half-wits. Coulter may be wrong about McCarthy, and she and I will disagree on this without it altering one iota of our affection for each other, just as Glenn Beck and I will probably disagree about Cass Sunstein. But unlike you I see Glenn and Ann as two champions of our cause, and regard it as a troubling blindness on your part that you can’t appreciate this.

Editor's Note: The subject of Horowitz and Coulter's disagreement about Senator Joe McCarthy was recently discussed at NewsReal Blog here, here, and in a special guest blog by historian Ron Radosh here.