In the New Yorker, George Packer discusses Patriots alongside Geoffrey Kabaservice's Rule and Ruin, Michael Lofgren's The Party is Over, and Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein's It's Worse Than It Looks.
Most of [Frum's] earlier books were written from the point of view of a conservative who saw his own side lacking the courage of its convictions. But something changed for Frum in the wake of the Iraq War and other disasters of the Bush Administration, in which he played a small, early role. In 2008, in “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” he urged Republicans to embrace less rigid, more centrist positions on the environment, social issues, economics, and other matters as a way back to power. But that book was quickly overtaken by the party’s rabid reaction to its 2008 defeat and Obama’s Presidency. Instead of moving to the sensible middle, it doubled down on its own extremism, both ideologically and as a matter of strategy. Frum entered into a series of scraps—with the radio loudmouths Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, and with his own employer, the American Enterprise Institute, which fired him after he published a critique of the Republican strategy in trying to kill health-care reform.
By 2010, Frum had become one of the party’s few high-profile apostates, and its bravest. “Patriots” is a novel about a wealthy young man who wanders into the conservative (“Constitutionalist”) archipelago in a just barely imaginary Washington and allows himself to be used by various operators for their own ends—which turn out to be more mercenary and self-seeking than principled. Frum’s Republican Party, unlike Lofgren’s, looks less like National Socialism in Weimar Germany than something closer to home—the cynicism of the Gilded Age, when élites turned to pillage and plunder while the country oscillated between rebellion and decay.