Skip to main content

What's the GOP message if the economy booms?

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 11:54 AM EST, Mon November 26, 2012
A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange, which has seen rising prices due to optimism about the prospects of a
A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange, which has seen rising prices due to optimism about the prospects of a "fiscal cliff" deal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum says signs pointing to the economy gaining steam in next two years
  • He says household debt is down, consumer confidence is up, jobs are returning
  • Republican message in 2010, 2012 was that Obama's plan wasn't working, he says
  • Frum: GOP needs a new message if the Obama economy produces real gains

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel "Patriots" and his post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- Here's the next thing the Republican party needs to rethink. What does it say if and when the United States returns to prosperity?

For five years, U.S. politics have been shaped by economic hardship. In 2008 and 2010, voters rejected the party in power, booting Republicans out of the White House, and then sweeping Democrats out of Congress.

Mitt Romney campaigned in 2012 on the slogan, "Obama isn't working." President Obama responded by attacking Romney as out of touch, assuming (probably correctly) that he could not win by running on his record.

David Frum
David Frum

But the indicators are suggesting that by 2013 and 2014, the Obama record will begin to look a lot better, assuming, that is, that the two parties in Washington don't recklessly push the country off the fiscal cliff at the end of the year.

Opinion: How Republicans can bounce back

The nation's economy added 171,000 jobs in October 2012, for a total of almost 700,000 in the four months before Election Day. More than half the jobs lost in the crash of 2008-2009 have now been recovered, even as public-sector employment has shrunk by a net 500,000.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The economy is recovering because consumers are less burdened by debt. They are paying down their credit cards, building home equity and strengthening their personal balance sheets.

As household debt burdens become lighter, consumers express more confidence. They are allowing themselves to spend a little more. They are even buying new homes again. Housing starts in October 2012 rose to a level 41.9% over a year before.

Brighter days ahead for U.S. economy?
Obama: Fiscal cliff a 'solvable' problem
Warren Buffett talks fiscal cliff

Accelerating economic activity is rapidly reducing the budget deficit. The deficit has contracted since 2009 at the fastest rate since the end of World War II, faster even than during the late 1990s boom.

Wages remain flat, and will likely stay flat until unemployment contracts more, but Americans can begin to see better times ahead for the first time in a long time.

News: GOP resistance to anti-tax pledge grows

As they do glimpse that better future, two things will happen in politics:

1) President Obama will begin to claim more credit. In 2012, the word "stimulus" went unmentioned by Democrats. It was Republicans who tried to make political use of the $800 billion spent on job creation in 2009-2011. In 2013-2014, however, the shoe may suddenly rematerialize on the other foot.

2) Republicans will discover that their old "Obama isn't working" theme has become obsolete. By 2014, again assuming that Congress does not leap off the fiscal cliff, it will likely look as if Obama is working. What then? If negative messaging failed in 2012, it will fail bigger in 2014.

For too long, the Republicans have predicted apocalypse, debt crisis, the loss of freedom, the overthrow of the constitution. As the economy improves, that doom-saying will seem even more out of touch than ever.

Republican political chances will depend on the Republican ability to devise a positive program to address the country's fiscal problems in ways that improve people's lives. It's a new day, guys, and it demands a new game.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT