Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt dial down border battle

By HADAS GOLD, POLITICO

Beck-FenceLast summer conservative radio and TV host Glenn Beck described congressional efforts for immigration reform as a “way the president will have amnesty for illegals” in order to fast-track “permanent progressivism.”

Last fall, he used the government shutdown to joke about declaring the border with Mexico a national park so that the government could properly guard it.

This time last year, his fellow conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt didn’t want any mulling over of immigration reform without an “actual, honest to God, 14-foot high, double-layered, access road, border fence” that stretched for 1,000 miles.

This summer, the radio waves sound different.

Beck and Hewitt are taking a softer tone on the issue — showing a more compassionate side for the 50,000 child migrants, whose presence and detention at the border have reignited the national debate on immigration.

Beck and Hewitt built their die-hard followings with conservative red-meat discussions, and while neither host has changed his stance on immigration policy — Beck said he is still against amnesty and Hewitt is still a big proponent of the fence — their new tone is a reminder of the unusual and complicated crisis at the border.

In an op-ed for POLITICO Magazine on Thursday, Hewitt argued that now isn’t the time to discuss the border fence he has long advocated.

“Right now the country ought to act to end the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of what are, in effect, orphans and strangers in our land. The very young among them should find ‘forever families’ right here, right now. They should become Americans,” Hewitt wrote.

On his Tuesday evening broadcast on his cable channel TheBlaze, Beck directly addressed the parents of child immigrants, tears in his eyes as a scrolling marquee translated his monologue into Spanish, begging them to keep their children at home for their own safety.

“Please would you consider doing the hard thing as well would you resist the temptation to flee or break up your family, please don’t hand your child off to a smuggler in the middle of the night,” Beck said. “I can’t sleep at night thinking about your son or daughter and so I and about 150 volunteers and multiple semi-trucks are going down to our border and we will see your child … and we will care for them.”

Hewitt and Beck seem to be alone among their conservative radio peers. While the duo pushed to humanize child migrants, their colleagues are focused on border security and deportation. Sean Hannity toured the border with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, machine guns in tow. Rush Limbaugh said authorities are trying to keep the issues at the border a secret and blasted liberals and Hollywood for not raising money for the children the same way they might for suffering children in Africa.

“So these kids, they’re arriving and they’re being dispersed el quicko, folks, they’re not hanging around,” Limbaugh said on his radio show last week.

Radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham wrote an 11-point plan last week on fixing the immigration crisis with the No. 1 item being deportations — an idea Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said could “doom” the Republican Party.

Ingraham said in an email that while Beck’s efforts are noble, it’s the government policies that need to be changed.

“We all try to help in our own ways, and I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place,” Ingraham said. “Bringing a smile to a frightened child should not be considered controversial. What is controversial are U.S. government policies that endanger their lives and further burden the already beleaguered American working class.”

Not everyone is buying the humanism. Centrist radio and CNN host Michael Smerconish said these hosts can’t just switch from whipping people into a frenzy to sudden compassion.

“Sorry, there needs to be accountability for those who have created our political climate, where compromise is the new c-word, and we are incapable of resolving the nation’s serious problems,” Smerconish said in an email. “You can’t whip your core audience into a nationalistic frenzy on an ongoing basis, praising one another’s patriotism for the sake of ratings, and then express surprise and disappointment when some among us are vitriolic toward unaccompanied minors.”

And Alex Marlow, editor of the conservative news site Breitbart.com, said he doesn’t accept the premise that the tone is suddenly “softer,” just that the media is now paying attention.

“Usually conservatives are ignored unless we can be portrayed as racists/bigots/evil. This time, the mainstream media is choosing to acknowledge that (some) conservatives fit their definition of decency because it suits their political agenda, namely, passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes amnesty,” Marlow said.

Beck’s approach — raising $2 million for the border children — has enraged some of his devoted followers and fellow conservatives, who say that by bringing toys and supplies to border children Beck is encouraging them to stay, or that this a stunt just to promote Beck’s brand.

“It’s hardly ‘compassionate’ to give people more reason to risk life and limb to come here illegally,” Marlow said. “Our writer John Nolte put it best in his brilliant piece responding to Glenn Beck, ‘the truly compassionate thing to do is to ensure you’re not doing anything that might encourage more parents to send their unaccompanied children.’”

Michael Savage, who has long clashed with Beck went even further, calling Beck a “huckster” that is taking the side of the liberals.

“Glenn Beck in other words opened up the door to attack the entire conservative movement. Do you really think he cares about the children? Do you actually think this huckster, this carnival barker Glenn Beck cares about the children?” Savage said on his radio show last week. “Do you think this is a Christian thing to do? Or simply an attempt by Glenn Beck to be invited on all the liberal programs who have banned him and all other individuals who are patriotic and believe in the law of the land.”

The more compassionate tone might also have the added benefit of rehabilitating the conservative image, said Hot Air editor Noah Rothman.

“The reality is that conservative right has an empathy problem and (Beck’s) initiative goes away to address that, and he’s a smart guy, a calculating guy so he might have that in mind when he’s doing that, but by no means do I think his first and primary concern is to help rebrand conservative party. I genuinely believe he’s doing it for charity,” Rothman said.

Beck said on his show that he recognizes that his listeners might not agree with his tactics but that while he knows the immigrants should be deported, he “can’t sleep at night knowing that we know what’s going on.”

“I’m getting violent emails from people who say I’ve ‘betrayed the Republic.’ Whatever. I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this — and I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this,” he said on his show last week before challenging liberal talk show hosts, asking them how much money they’ve raised.

All this could be a sign in Beck’s case that he is committing to something he promised earlier this year: In January, he told Fox News host Megyn Kelly that he fears he played a role in helping to “tear the country apart” with his rhetoric, and that he planned to change.

And even when he goes to visit the migrant children Saturday, Beck said he’d have a message to comfort them: They’d be deported soon.

“I will tell them soon, you’ll be back home. You’ll be back with mom and dad.”

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