Immigration Reform and Talk Radio

Will the fate of immigration reform be in the hands of talk radio even as popular Republicans are stepping forward to support it?

Last month, the Republican National Committee released an “autopsy” for the party that called for, among other things, supporting immigration reform. Likewise last month, Tea Party favorite and likely 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul expressed support for a process to provide legal status to illegal immigrants. Another likely 2016 GOP hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio previously announced support for immigration reform and is the key member of the Gang of Eight.

But in 2007, talk radio sounded the amnesty alarm. Conservative hosts were blamed (or credited) with derailing a bipartisan measure supported by Republican President Bush and congressional Democrats. Fred V. Lucas writes about this in The Right Frequency: The Story of the Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment (History Publishing Co.).

Book Cover

After the defeat of the 2007 immigration bill, prominent Republican Sen. Trent Lott famously griped, “talk radio is running America.” Many Democrats, feeling the medium was too powerful, demanded a return to the Fairness Doctrine.

“The last time an immigration bill had a real chance, talk radio spoke in near uniformity against the bill,” Lucas said. “It looks like it will be much different this time. Certainly there is no lockstep consensus. Sean Hannity – with the second highest ratings of any host – says he evolved on a so-called ‘pathway to citizenship.’ Other hosts still insist it’s ‘amnesty.’ Many conservative talkers are just avoiding the topic altogether, or barely addressing it, perhaps waiting to see how it shakes out.”

“Rush Limbaugh for example has pointed out that surveys show reform is not the top concern of Hispanic voters, so there is no guarantee this will pick up Republican votes as the RNC and some politicians seem believe,” Lucas continued. “That said, Limbaugh isn’t as adamant about the matter as he was in the past.”

After Trent Lott’s assertion, Limbaugh defiantly posed on the cover of his newsletter under the words, “I run America.”

The Right Frequency details how most American talk hosts including Limbaugh, Hannity, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck called on their listeners to call Capitol Hill in opposition to “amnesty.” Listeners obliged, melting the phone lines of their Senators and Representatives and succeeded in stopping the bill backed by leadership in both parties.

However, not everyone thought it was a good idea. The Right Frequency tells of one conservative host who believes his colleagues were short sighted and that Barack Obama would have lost the 2008 election had some version of immigration bill passed.

Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for CNSNews.com and a contributing editor for Townhall Magazine.

To read more, click here to order a copy of The Right Frequency.

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