Whenever things get tough for the Republican party, conservatives will draw a separation between (good, pure) philosophical conservatism and (compromised, tainted) Republican politics. But the people who began making a lot of money out of politics in the 1990s did so precisely as conservatives. “Here’s why conservatives should support Microsoft, not Netscape,” they would explain. “AT&T is right from a conservative point of view, and Verizon is wrong,” another would chime. “Conservatives cherish federalism — and that’s why we must insist that electrical utilities continue to be regulated by the state power commissions!”
There’s a lot of truth to this, though I think it’s a little more complicated than Frum makes it out to be. Corporate capture of the GOP is a real problem at times, but that doesn’t mean that conservative activists should never make strategic alliances with the business world. If a conservative political organization finds itself in support of similar legislation as some major industry, isn’t it smart politics to work that industry’s policy wing to pass that legislation? The problem begins, I think, when conservative groups become indistinguishable from an industry’s paid lobbyists.
Still, it’s crucial for the right to defend itself against accusations of wholesale capture by the corporate-lobbying complex (and release itself if and where that capture exists). Part of that might mean, as Frum seems to imply, severing some existing corporate ties. Part of that might mean tactical redirection of the anti-corporate sentiment that has come as a natural result of the recent string of bailouts. It will definitely mean highlighting stories like this one, which showcase the ways that, far from reducing corporate influence on government, a Democratic Washington has in many ways been a boon to the lobbying world. My good friend Tim Carney, newly of the DC Examiner, does this more consistently than just about anyone. I continue to foresee (and hope!) that his ideas, and hopefully his work, become a major strain of thinking on the right.