Immigration Dispute Roils Conservative Radio
July 7, 2008 - 7:32 PM
(CNSNews.com) - President Bush's immigration bill has created a rift between right-wing talk radio and Republican politicians that threatens to rupture the conservative coalition, according to a nationally syndicated radio host.
"If [the bill] is jammed through before, ironically, Independence Day, I think we will have been witnesses ... to the end of the old conservative coalition," Laura Ingraham said on Monday. "I truly believe that it is over if this happens, and it's time to rebuild and restart."
Conservative radio has been dominated by outrage over the immigration issue. The Project for Excellence in Journalism ranked immigration as the top topic on talk radio and cable news during the week of June 10-15. It was only the second time this year that the issue had been rated number one, although immigration has consistently been listed in the top five since the current bill was announced on May 17, according to the PEJ rankings.
Although criticism on conservative talk radio is traditionally aimed at Democrats, the immigration issue has put many Republicans in the crosshairs of hosts such as Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, who argue that the bill being debated in the Senate amounts to amnesty.
"We stand up for our principles regardless of any party affiliation," Hannity said on his nationally-syndicated radio show.
Ingraham told Cybercast News Service that immigration has struck a chord with conservatives because the issue "affects our culture, our health care, our schools, our economy, and our national security. How many other issues can you say that about?"
Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers Magazine, agreed, calling immigration "a very serious hot-button issue in America" that "applies to so many parts of our economy and sociology."
"As a result, when it's presented within the medium of talk radio, which is passionate and dramatic and compelling, it gets serious reaction," he told Cybercast News Service.
Talk radio criticism of Republicans escalated after Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) critized the medium's role in opposing the legislation.
"Talk radio is running America," Lott said. "We have to deal with that problem."
Conservative hosts from Limbaugh to Neal Boortz criticized Lott's remark and wondered on-air whether Lott intended to silence conservative radio. Michael Savage accused the Republican senator of using Nazi tactics against the bill's critics.
Ingraham said Lott's comments were a thinly veiled attack on millions of Americans who had put him in office and had defended him on many issues.
"His attack was an attack not on talk radio hosts, but really on the people who listen," she said. "Talk radio is nothing without our millions of listeners."
Glenn Beck made a similar point on his nationally syndicated radio show.
"Trent Lott the other day said that talk radio is ruling the country," he told his listeners. "You know what that means? It means that you rule the country.
"This is the media source that is the closest to the people," Beck added. "[Radio] is the only national media source that I'm aware of in which you influence what's going on, where you have your voice heard."
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended Lott and echoed his criticism of conservative talk radio. Graham suggested that critics of the immigration bill were motivated by racism, saying on ABC News, "We've been down this road before -- 'no Catholics,' 'no Jews,' 'Irish need not apply.'"
Ingraham dismissed such criticisms and accused senators like Graham of pandering, rather than enforcing the law. "They sure seem to be more interested in being liked than doing what's right," she said.
If President Bush continues to back the legislation (and he shows no sign of doing anything else), many analysts believe that there could be political consequences.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 45 percent of self-identified Republicans approve of how the president is handling immigration, a 16-point drop since April. Of self-identified conservatives, 35 percent of respondents approved, a decrease of 13 points.
Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told Cybercast News Service the immigration controversy shows that the Republican party is not always the perfect home for conservative interests.
Nonetheless, he said, "Bush's bet is that, in the end, conservatives will rally to him on other things they have in common, especially as partisanship increases in an election year.
"That's likely true, Sabato said, "but it is a gamble."
Sabato contended that the Hispanic vote played a key role in Bush's support for the bill, noting that the GOP will need at least 40 percent of Hispanic voters' support to continue winning elections.
"The political calculus is obvious -- Hispanic votes versus conservative votes," Sabato said.
But Scott McLean, chair of the political science department at Quinnipiac University, argued that the Republicans already have lost the Hispanic vote.
"It's over," he told Cybercast News Service. "They had a shot at that six or eight years ago, but given how they've voted in the last two elections, the Hispanics are really trending towards the Democrats."
According to Pew Research exit polls, Hispanics supported Democrats over Republicans in the Nov. 2006 election by 69-30 percent. By comparison, the Democrats won 58 percent of Hispanic votes in 2004, to 40 percent to the GOP.
McLean said Republicans who support the immigration bill do so out of conviction, rather than politics.
"Bush sees the clock is pushing on getting some kind of landmark legislation through, and I think he really believes that it's good for the country," he said. "And it's really his last chance to get this done."
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