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The most influential
The final instalment of Telegraph.co.uk's list of the conservatives who most influence American politics.
1. Dick Cheney (6 in the 2007 list )
Former Vice President of the
A low key and intensely loyal vice-president, Dick Cheney has emerged as the principal tormentor of Barack Obama in the past year, shaping the national debate on national security and forcing the White House to scramble to respond. Cheney signalled his intent way back in February when he stated that protecting
Some Republicans are deeply uncomfortable about Cheney being the voice of national security for the party – and in many respects the main voice on any issue. They fret that he is old and white and grumpy and has low approval rating – making him, in essence, everything that Obama is not (though the gap between their approval ratings is narrowing). We judge that this is missing the point. Cheney’s role at this stage – before a new Republican leader emerges – is to energise the party base (and he will also be a prodigious fundraiser for 2010 and 2012), keep Obama on the back foot and engage in the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of politics that some with their names on future ballots would prefer to sit out.
2. Rush Limbaugh (5)
Talk radio host
The king of conservative talk radio – in fact, any talk radio – continues to go from strength to strength. Much slimmer, due to get married for a fourth time on the Fourth of July and having just survived a heart attack scare in Honolulu, Limbaugh’s influence continues to expand far beyond his show. When Michael Steele, chair of the Republican National Committee, described Limbaugh’s rhetoric as “incendiary" and "ugly", he soon corrected himself and apologised: “My intent was not to go after Rush - I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh." Limbaugh, who turned 59 this week, has clearly got inside Obama’s head and the White House unwisely decided to brand him as the de facto leader of the Republican party as a way of marginalising the GOP. This only served to elevate Limbaugh – the vast majority of whose critics clearly never listen to his show.
Limbaugh flexed his muscle during the 2008 democratic primary battle by encouraging his listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton against Obama in what he dubbed “Operation Chaos”. Democratic operatives concede that he had an effect. Since Obama was elected, Limbaugh has gone after him like a starving pit bull let loose on a lamb. He has described Obama’s political rise as “a five-minute career" of a man who was "immature, inexperienced, in over his head", charging: “I think he's got an out-of-this-world ego. He's very narcissistic. And he's able to focus all attention on him all the time.” This prompted David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser, to respond rather lamely: “I think it's a surreal day when you're getting lectures on humility from Rush Limbaugh. The fact is that he is an entertainer. The president has to run the country." But Limbaugh does not underestimate Obama. This week, he warned: “He is not a cool, calm customer. He's a cold, calculating one, and he has a vision of
3. Matt Drudge (3)
Internet pioneer, owner of The Drudge Report
Many have predicted Drudge’s demise but the internet pioneer who sprung to national attention when he broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal as the mainstream media hesitated endures. As with Limbaugh, the White House despises Drudge but cannot stop thinking about him. When Drudge posted a video of Obama Biographies Plus News talking about the end of private health insurance in 2007, the White House sent out Linda Douglass, White House Deputy Communications Director and a former ABC News reporter to brand them "outright falsehoods”. Drudge promptly posted the clip of Douglass, who came off second in the tussle. Establishment journalism types often decry Drudge but many of them are in email contact with him and crave a link that can immediately catapult one of their stories to the top of their newspaper website’s “most viewed” list.
Perhaps the most reclusive figures in modern journalism, Drudge’s air of mystery is such that some people wonder whether he still exists. He did, however, make an appearance at a
4. Sarah Palin (Not in the 2007 list)
Palin came from nowhere in terms of the public consciousness in 2008 to become an instant political and media star who is vilified and lauded in equal measure. Things have not been smooth for Palin. Clearly unprepared to be a national candidate, John McCain rolled the dice when he chose her as his vice-presidential running mate. Initially, it seemed to pay off. She delivered a masterful speech at the Republican convention in
Rather than go back to
5. Robert Gates (7)
The low-key Gates, a former CIA director whose original cover (soon blown) as a trainee spy was as a Pentagon official, was lured away from his beloved Texas A&M University by President George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the end of 2006. Over a 27-year Agency career, Gates became the only person ever to rise from entry level to CIA chief. Obama dismayed many liberals by asking Gates to stay on but even though it is clear he is fulfilling much more than a caretaker his detractors are now quiet. During the autumn debate over troops levels in
Having overseen the
6. Glenn Beck (18)
Fox News presenter
The fastest-rising star of cable television, Beck delivers monologues that veer from doom-saying to tears, jokes and rapid fire analysis of Obamaland’s suspect connections, hidden beliefs and dark plots. His subjects include: the threat of fascism/communism, terrorism, Wall Street fat cats,
It is working spectacularly. Since switching from CNN’s Headline News to Fox News Beck has soared up the ratings chart with his 5pm show capturing an average two million viewers, an unprecedented number at that hour. His talk radio show rates third in the country. There have been five best-selling books.
A recovered alcoholic and drug addict he has also cried more than any presenter in memory, often welling up at the thought of what will happen to the
His opposition to “big government” and Obama has seen him adopted by many in the Tea Party movement as their figurehead. There has been talk of a presidential bid, which will do his ratings no harm. "I consider myself a libertarian. I'm a conservative, but every day that goes by I'm fighting for individual rights," explained Beck, who has described his show as a “fusion of enlightenment and entertainment”.
7.Roger Ailes (23)
President, Fox News Channel
When Roger Ailes, a veteran media consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr, heard that his boss Rupert Murdoch was preparing to back Obama for President in a New York Post editorial, he threatened to resign. Murdoch responded by giving him a pay rise (he is said to have earned $23 million last year – more than Murdoch) and endorsing John McCain. As the traditional broadcast networks see their profits and influence decline, Ailes has turned Fox News into a cash cow for News Corporation, trading on the President’s growing unpopularity to make Fox the go-to place for everything anti-Obama. Assessing Fox’s influence, Obama reckoned the “Fox effect” had cost him two or three points in the 2008 election – which means that next time it could well decide who becomes President. Democratic operative James Carville recently said that if Ailes were a Democrat “I think there would be 67 Democratic senators right now”. There are currently 60.
Along with the legendarily combative operative Lee Attwater, Ailes was responsible for Bush Snr’s win over Michael Dukakis in 1988 by helping to portray the then
8. David Petraeus (2)
Head of US Central Command
As commander of the troop surge in
Now head of all American forces in the Middle East, he has the delicate task of winding down the
Centcom covers a vast area with 20 nations that contains most of the world’s current hot spots. Petraeus had twice travelled to
9. Paul Ryan (-)
Paul Ryan has it all – including time on his side. He entered Congress at the tender age of 28 and doesn’t turn 40 until this year. A budget hawk, he is now the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee and is holding the Obama administration’s feet to the fire just as he challenged the Bush administration to return to fiscal conservatism. Undoubtedly a future presidential prospect, he hails from a swing state and won re-election in 2008 even though his district went for Obama – an illustration of his powerful crossover appeal. A Catholic and strong social conservative, Ryan is happily married with three children and is a keen bow hunter and fisherman. His website Americanroadmap.org outlines his plans to rewrite the entire federal tax, healthcare and Social Security system.
Increasingly a national figure, he recently endorsed Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate primary, saying that “Marco’s record of conservative leadership offers convincing evidence that he will hold Washington accountable, prevent government from wasting our tax dollars and lead a new generation of Republicans”. Showed he is not afraid to go against his party’s hierarchy. A former Senate aide, he wrote speeches for Jack Kemp, Republican vice-presidential candidate in 1996. He is the fifth generation of his family to live in
10.Tim Pawlenty (-)
The runner-up for the vice-presidential slot on the 2008 Republican ticket, he lost out to Sarah Palin then but is viewed by many GOP leaders as the better long-term bet. Has said he will not run for re-election when his term expires this year, meaning he will have more time to spend with his wife and two daughters, as well as the consultants he has quietly locked in for what everyone assumes will be a 2012 presidential bid. A Catholic who converted to become a Protestant evangelical, he is a favourite of Christian conservatives and also comes from a swing state and has the kind of Mid-West appeal that resonates in a national campaign. Although conservative on all the important issues, he advocates a broad church. “We loved Ronald Reagan, but he made some compromises along the way," he said in 2008. “We don't have a big enough party to be throwing people overboard.”
Has visited first-voting
11. Mitt Romney (10)
Former Governor of Massachusetts
Romney failed to overcome doubts about the genuineness of his principles in 2008 after he transformed himself from a moderate Republican in Massachusetts in favour of abortion rights into a crusading social conservative. Despite his “Matinee Mitt” looks, huge fortune (though slightly less huge since he spent an estimated $50 million in 2008), executive experience and intelligence, Romney had an authenticity problem that he just could not overcome. His fellow Republican candidates seemed to have a visceral dislike of him, though that has abated somewhat, especially in the case of John McCain, whom Romney loyally supported in the general election campaign.
Since losing to McCain, Romney has barely stopped campaigning, taking frequent shots at Obama’s economic and foreign policy and forming the Free and Strong America Political Action Committee. The Republican congressional party has often sought the former CEO’s expertise for ideas on economic policy. It is widely assumed that he will run again in 2012 and if so probably start as the official frontrunner. The question of his Mormon religion – which many evangelicals regard as a semi-Christian cult – will doubtless rear its head again. And Republicans won’t have forgotten that Romney struggled to connect with voters outside the country club set and will be want to make a cold calculation about whether this is an insurmountable flaw.
12. George W. Bush (21)
In 2007, George W. Bush just missed our Top 20 top conservatives list – a provocative and controversial decision but one that reflected his disastrous poll ratings, the dismay of conservatives at out-of-control spending, the colossal mistakes over Iraq and his failure to consolidate the conservative majority he had won. Aides protested that history would vindicate him and already there are signs that this is happening. The Iraq “surge” of 2007 unquestionably won the war and has helped establish a viable democratic state in the heart of the Middle East. There were terrible errors committed along the way but Bush showed the vision and toughness to change course and commit American blood and treasure when all appeared lost.
Bush’s influence endures also because Obama and his advisers seem scarcely able to do anything without referring to his predecessor. This betrays a shallowness that is beginning to wear thin with American voters. With the recent terrorist attacks, Bush’s relentless focus on Islamist terrorism now looks wise rather than obsessive and he bequeathed Obama one of the most impressive members of the current Cabinet – Bob Gates. Bush’s absence from the limelight and his refusal to criticise Obama even through surrogates is to be commended. So too was his personal insistence that led to the transition between the two administrations being one of the smoothest in American history.
13. John Roberts (8)
Supreme Court Chief Justice
There may be a liberal in the White House, but the Supreme Court has a reliable conservative at its head who is set to shape the parameters of American life for a generation. Aged 50 when he joined in 2005, he was the third youngest man to lead the court and has been a reliable conservative so far. In 2008, the court overturned on a 5-4 vote the District of Columbia’s 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The first major pronouncement on gun rights in the court’s history, it settled the argument over whether or not the controversial amendment applied to individuals. But it ruled that like all rights it was not absolute, essentially allowing states and cities to vary their gun laws on issues such as carrying and concealment.
The court did deal a setback to Bush, ruling that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal court and that congressional legislation has failed to provide a reasonable substitute for such a hearing. On that occasion Roberts was on the losing side as Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the liberals. The Christian Right’s holy grail of overturning Roe versus Wade and making abortion illegal is not among the chief justice’s plans, but in the next few years detention, torture, free speech and other hot button issues will come before the Roberts court.
14. Haley Barbour (16)
Governor of Mississippi
Head of the Republican Governors Association after Mark Sanford stepped down in June, Barbour is a lawyer, lobbyist, political operative and Republican governor whose influence is huge at this key moment for American conservatism. As chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 – the period of the “Republican Revolution” when the GOP won the Senate and House for the first time since 1954 – he has led his party back from the wilderness before. Made millions lobbying for the tobacco industry and others before entering electoral politics. Easily re-elected as Mississippi governor in 2007, Barbour is only the second Republican to secure the post since Reconstruction and won the backing of several of the state’s leading Democrats.
During Hurricane Katrina, his performance was compared to that of Rudy Giuliani in New York after the 9/11 attacks as he calmly ordered evacuations, threatened those who would break the law amid the carnage on the Gulf coast and declined to blame Bush or the federal government. As a personable, successful Southern governor with huge experience, he is a potential 2012 candidate but his lobbying background and slightly shambolic air would probably count him out. Recognising this, Barbour instead seems content to be one of the principal advocates for and strategists of another Republican revival. He warned last year, however, that it wouldn’t be easy. “The elections that matter for Republicans are in 2009 and '10. 1993 paved the way for the 1994 congressional election. The 2009 elections in Virginia and New Jersey were a big tick on the box for the GOP and Barbour. He added: “The other thing that's a fact is only once since 1896 has a party won the White House from the other party and only kept it four years. So history favours the Democrats but then again, we're in unprecedented times in many, many ways.”
15. Eric Cantor (-)
Congressman for Virginia
A youthful 46, Cantor is routinely – and accurately - described as a rising star, becoming Minority Whip a year ago after eight years in the House of Representatives. The only Jewish Republican in Congress, he advocates a strong US-Israeli alliance and led a Republican congressional delegation to the Middle East in August to rouse support for Israeli settlements that he felt the White House overlooked.
Although a strong conservative across the board, he aims to help return the Republicans to power by becoming less ideologically focused on social issues and more concerned with economical issues. He believes “60 per cent of America is with us in believing in a Main Street, common-sense conservatism" but that Republicans struggle to connect with voters for reasons of image.
During his first year as Whip showed no qualms about taking on liberal big beasts such as Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, excoriating them for politicising the first bailout bill. He regularly consults Newt Gingrich for inspiration about how the party can repeat his success of 1994 but it will be up to Cantor and his colleagues to produce eye-catching policy ideas if they really want to capitalise on disenchantment with the Democrats.
16. John McCain (9)
Senator for Arizona
The losing Republican presidential candidate’s concession speech on election night in 2008 was one of his finest moments, a shining example of the dignity, fairness and patriotism that McCain’s supporters adore him for.
Some erratic moments did his campaign no favours, but it was probably always a virtually unwinnable election for Republicans, and the former Vietnam prisoner of war came through with his honour substantially intact, not least because he declined to go strongly negative against Obama and raise issues like his relationship wth the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Plenty of fellow moderate Republicans have privately and publicly questioned the wisdom of picking Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate, but in the end it was perhaps no more than a gamble that didn’t pay off. No one could foresee the phenomenon she became.
The elder statesman remains his own man and one of few Senators whose remarks always command attention. His objections to Obama’s July 2011 to start bringing home troops from Afghanistan had a credibility rooted in his long foreign policy experience and advocacy of the successful surge in Iraq. Recently accused Obama of "leading an extreme Left-wing crusade to bankrupt America”. Obama would have done well to court his former opponent but seems to have missed his chance. McCain will remain in the thick of the legislative action, especially if the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof majority. Now 73, he will not run for President but is on course to be re-elected to another six-year term in the Senate.
17. Mike Pence (19)
Any conversation about rising stars within the conservative movement involves Mike Pence. A lawyer, former talk radio host and now the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives has just fuelled rumours of a possible presidential run by hiring national campaign operatives Kellyanne Conway and Bill Neale. Entered Congress in 2001 and has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order". As chair of the Republican Study Committee - a conservative congressional caucus - Pence was a crusader for small government, low taxes and the outlawing of abortion. Now he’s even higher profile as chair of the GOP House conference.
Is beloved by the tea party movement, which could yet turn out to be the kingmaker in the Republican party. Although a 2012 presidential bid is possible, a more likely option for Pence might be to run for Governor of Indiana when Mitch Daniels steps down (he is term-limited). Alternatively, with Senator Richard Lugar in his 78th year, Pence would be a natural to replace him. An outspoken defender of conservative radio and television hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, he said in October: “To my friends in the so-called ‘mainstream media’ I say, ‘conservative talk show hosts may not speak for everybody but they speak for more Americans than you do.’” An accomplished communicator, he is at the forefront of rebuilding the Republican brand. “If you can’t communicate, you can’t govern,” he has said.
18. Bob McDonnell (-)
Governor-elect of Virginia
McDonnell’s landslide 17-point victory over opponent Creigh Deeds in the Virginia governor’s race last November stunned Democrats and demonstrated at an early stage that Obama’s party is in for a rough ride in 2010. Virginia took on an almost iconic status for the Obama campaign, voting for their man by a thumping margin over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. The traditionally conservative state with a strong military presence then chose Mr Obama over McCain.
19. Newt Gingrich (4)
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives
It is a testament to the power of Gingrich’s intellect, personality and penchant for self-promotion that a decade after leaving public office he remains a central conservative figure. Part of this is his interest in ideas rather than just the mechanics of politics. He has remained committed to low tax and small government as well as looking for innovative solutions to social challenges. He was increasingly critical of the Bush administration, eventually branding it a study in “arrogance, isolation and destructiveness” and vigourously opposed Bush’s proposed immigration reform.
Although still a hate figure among Democrats, he has cooperated with the likes of Hillary Clinton on healthcare and Al Sharpton on inner city education and appeared in a television ad alongside Nancy Pelosi to urge action on climate change. None of these alliances across the aisle has endeared him to grassroots Republicans. Neither did his endorsement of GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava in a New York state special House election rather than Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate. When Scozzafava pulled out and backed the Democrat, Gingrich was left with egg on his face.
He eventually ruled out a presidential bid in 2008 after conducting a long tease with the media. True to form, he is engaging in the same act for 2012, declaring this week: “"I think I'm probably on a list of seven or eight possible candidates at this stage.” Former aides, however, state that the thrice-married Gingrich knows he could never be president. An omnipresent media commentator, he has been a trenchant critic of the Obama’s national security policy. “We are watching the Obama administration return to the criminal-justice attitudes that failed to keep [the US] safe in the Clinton years,” he said recently.
20. Mike Huckabee (11)
It is widely assumed Huckabee will be among the early declarers for the 2012 Republican primary and if Sarah Palin joins the race they will battle for the evangelical, activist vote, which would test Huckabee’s gracious manners (except when he’s talking about Mitt Romney) and ready wit. Already preparing for the challenge, he told the New Yorker that the main difference between them was "she looks better in stilettos than I do, and she has better hair".
The former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, and occasional rock musician, swept to a surprise victory in Iowa on the back of evangelical support and finished second to John McCain overall. Next time his fundraising operation should be stronger while he will have a ground operation established in Iowa and South Carolina. But many Republican insiders believe that 2008 was his political high water mark. His 2012 hopes were dealt a blow recently when it emerged that Maurice Clemmons, accused of murdering four police officers in Washington state, had been granted clemency by Huckabee in Arkansas in 2000.
Huckabee, who before 2008 was best known for losing lots of weight and advocating a healthy lifestyle, has kept his profile high after the primary, with a daily commentary on ABC Radio and the Huck Political Action Committee. Perhaps the biggest question mark over his participation is whether or not the former teenage local radio host finds his Saturday show on Fox News too comfortable a gig to leave.
Lists compiled by the Telegraph staff in Washington – Toby Harnden, Alex Spillius, Rachel Ray, Andrea Viola and Meghan Cassin.