1. After working in the White House, you wrote ‘The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W Bush’. Bush entered the White House under this dark cloud because of such a controversial election which ended in a Supreme Court case. Yet, by 2004, he easily defeated John Kerry as a very popular incumbent. Obviously, Bush's response to 9/11 played a major impact on his popularity for the first term, but truly how big of an impact was 9/11 on his popularity raising?
"911 was a tragedy and a mistake the US government could have prevented; it was a real failure that it was not. So, I am a little uncomfortable discussing it in those kinds of political terms because we must remember first that it was a terrible event in the history of the country. Second, it was a terrible shame for the US government because what we now know is the knowledge of how to prevent 9/11 was in different parts of the US government. If the government had been working better, those parts of the puzzle would have been put together and we would have seen the picture. But, as it was, the FBI was not talking to the CIA, the CIA wasn't talking to the FBI, neither of them was talking to the White House so a terrible plan that should have been stopped was not. But the impact of this was: When Donald Trump became president in 2016 with a minority of the vote, he pretended nothing had happened. He kept saying he had won this giant victory when he lost by three million votes. George Bush understood that he lost the popular vote, and this was a problem for him. In everything he did before 9/11 he tried to deal with this problem to speak to the whole country. For every conservative thing he did, he tried to do a liberal thing. 911 created an opportunity for America to come together and say, OK, we all will agree that this person is the proper president, even though he came into office in a way that was difficult and made a lot of people angry."
2. While in the White House you famously wrote the phrase axis of evil, which would be used in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address. How did you come up with the phrase and did you expect it to play such a defining role in his administration?
"The State of the Union speech is the biggest speech the president delivers each year and is the work of many hands. Saying you wrote it is like saying you wrote the screenplay for Transformers 2. Somebody wrote a draft, and then somebody else wrote another draft, and then a third person put them together, and a fourth person worked on it again. At the end of the day, the president is the author because, in the end, he has to say I am going to stand up in front of the nation, in front of the world, and speak these words. Nothing is easier than putting words on paper; standing up and taking responsibility for words is hard. For speechwriters, if you ever think it is you who is doing the work, you are making a terrible mistake because the person who speaks the words takes the risk and then the person who speaks the words is effectively the author- all you are doing is helping. That phrase emerged from a much larger piece of writing. I had written several different sections, some of which were rejected entirely, some of which had a paragraph, or even a sentence, inserted and then it's put together. When I wrote that section of the Bush speech, I did not know whether he would name any countries or not. I didn't say ‘the following countries: name of country here’, I wrote ‘countries like these’ because to actually name it, that's a big decision= and not a decision a speechwriter would make. When I wrote it, I had no idea what its impact would be because I didn't even know whether it would see the light of day. In contrast, I wrote hundreds, probably thousands, of other words in that speech which were cut. They went off my desk, into the process, and never saw the light of day. When you write these things, you never know which words are going to survive."
3. One of the countries Bush mentioned, whether or not it was your intention, was North Korea. That brings us to Donald Trump- the former president. How did his ‘on again, off again’ relationship with Kim Jong-Un affect your feelings about the former president- especially considering they’re a part of the ‘Axis of Evil’?
"It did not affect them at all because he behaved exactly as foolishly and irresponsibly as I expected him to behave. Trump is a chump and the North Koreans played him. Donald Trump said it was a 'big win' that he had a meeting with this tinpot dictator. But, Kim Jong-un wanted a meeting with Barack Obama; he wanted a meeting with George W Bush, but he did not get it because it's a big deal to get a meeting with the President of the United States. You must earn it and Trump gave it away for nothing; he was foolish. He accomplished nothing. And North Korea? That is a key part- what North Korea wants is money and attention. A successful North Korea policy deprives them of both money and attention until their behavior improves and Donald Trump changed this. He made it easier for them to get money and certainly gave them attention without getting anything in return for the United States."
Want to hear more about Frum's opinions of Trump? Come back next Tuesday when he speaks on the second Trump Impeachment Trial and his VP Mike Pence.