At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the top conservatives in the US were the ones who carried the most influence. Whether due to circumstances or political acumen, these were the 10 most influential political conservatives of the early 21st century.
10. Matt Drudge
Matthew Nathan Drudge entered the 21st century on a high note, having broken two major political stories in the 1990s and operating DrudgeReport.com, one of the most successful Internet sites on the web. Over the course of the decade, Matt Drudge continued to refine the site, offering a unique mix of news with a conservative political perspective. By 2009, his site was one of the most important political fixtures in America. Politicians from the Left and the Right began to court Drudge; Republicans attempted to use his site to bolster their candidates, Democrats to sway negative publicity away from theirs. Despite attempts from liberal bloggers to discredit him, Drudge continues to be one of the most influential conservatives in America.
9. Michelle Malkin
Although she has been a member of the print media since 1992, Michelle (Maglalang) Malkin took the Internet by storm in the 2000s. Her web site, MichelleMalkin.com, is consistently a top 100 blog site. She began her Internet career after 9/11 in 2002, writing for VDARE.com, a conservative web site focusing on immigration issues. Two years later, in 2004, she launched her web site, which focuses on conservative political issues of all kinds, and in 2006, she began contributing to HotAir.com, which also discusses politics from a right-wing perspective. By 2009, Malkin had written four books and was a feature television commentator. Her opinions and commentary continue to hold great influence over conservative audiences in the US.
8. Rush Limbaugh
On Nov. 29, 2009, CBS published a poll that named radio talk-show host Rush Hudson Limbaugh III as the most influential conservative in America, garnering 26 percent of the vote. Interestingly, the poll was conducted over the Internet by CBS news digest "60 Minutes" and the highly liberal gossip magazine Vanity Fair. Limbaugh is well-known for often making rash statements and inciting vigorous debates about race, evolution and President Obama's birth certificate. Over the course of the first decade of the 21st century, Limbaugh's brand of incendiary commentary gave way to the more common-sense conservative approaches of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Still, Limbaugh remained on top of the conservative punditry for much of the decade.
7. Mitt Romney
In 2002, former businessman Willard "Mitt" Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts. Despite possessing several formerly liberal platforms (on gun control, gay marriage and abortion), Romney became increasingly conservative over the course of the decade as his presidential aspirations grew more attainable. After serving for four years, he sought the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, running, as he did for governor, on a strong economic platform. Following his loss to John McCain, Romney's political influence waned until 2009, when President Barack Obama began driving up the national deficit. Romney's presidential aspirations remain firmly in place, and he is widely considered a front-runner for the 2012 GOP primary.
6. George W. Bush
The 43rd President of the United States, President George W. Bush entered the 21st century as the nation's newest president, after getting off to an uncertain start thanks to a razor-thin election. The defining moment of Bush's administration came on Sept. 11, 2001. After the attacks, which had been planned well before he entered office, Bush toughened the nation's national security policies and abandoned his "compassionate conservatism" by launching a preemptive war against Iraq in 2003. In 2005, he mishandled Hurricane Katrina badly, leaving him open to harsh criticism. As the first president of the new century, Bush won't be remembered as a great president, but he will be remembered as one who kept America safe from further attacks.
5. Dick Cheney
Often portrayed as the "brains" behind President George W. Bush's White House, former Vice President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney entered the 21st century as a well-established and uncompromising conservative. Cheney, a former defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush, emerged as a silent force in the second Bush administration following the terror attacks of 9/11. Cheney is widely credited as the architect of the White House's "War on Terror" and the main proponent of the 2007 troop "surge" in Iraq. In 2009, Cheney became a vocal defender of the administration's policies after President Obama criticized the interrogation methods used by the CIA under Bush. Cheney continues to wield considerable influence in conservative circles.
4. John McCain
Despite his staggering loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, Arizona Sen. John Sidney McCain III remains one of the most controversial and influential conservatives on Capitol Hill. Considered a "maverick" on Capitol Hill, McCain ran for president in 2000, but lost to ultimate GOP nominee and eventual president George W. Bush. He ran again in 2008, and this time, he won the nomination, but lost to eventual president Barack Obama. Despite all his accolades (which include campaign finance reform and immigration reform) and his unique ability to work well with Democrats, the first decade of the 21st century might remember McCain best for introducing the world to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
3. Sarah Palin
Another conservative who was far removed from the national spotlight at the start of the 21st century, Sarah Louise Heath Palin went on to become the most popular governor in Alaska state history, as well as the only woman to ever hold the post. On Aug. 29, 2008, Palin was thrust into the spotlight's glare when she was tapped to become the VP running-mate of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Palin's controversial folksy style and socially conservative beliefs launched her to superstar status, making her an icon for the right and a lightning rod for the left. After a devastating loss for the GOP and vicious attacks on and off the campaign trail, Palin emerged as one of the country's most influential conservatives by 2009.
Former Arkansas Gov. Michael Dale "Mike" Huckabee entered the 21st century as a two-term Republican incumbent. In 2002, he successfully ran for re-election, becoming the third-longest serving governor in Arkansas history. In 2007, Huckabee, a former pastor, entered the Republican Primary, earning a surprising win in the first major Iowa caucus. The former governor subsequently outlasted every other candidate except eventual nominee John McCain and Texas Congressman Ron Paul before bowing out in March 2008. Huckabee followed up the campaign with a new TV show on FOX News Channel, his seventh book and a radio program. Despite a controversy over the pardon of Seattle killer Maurice Clemmons, Huckabee remains a top conservative leader.
1. Glenn Beck
A relative unknown at the start of the 21st century, Glenn Lee Beck went on to become the most influential conservative with the most defining message by the end of its first decade. Beck's epic battle with the liberal organization ACORN, the success of his 9/12 Project and his vocal opposition to President Barack Obama resonated with disenfranchised conservatives everywhere in the first year of the president's first term. One of the early proponents of the Tea Party movement, Beck's publicity helped propel it to the forefront of American politics. His considerable influence is illustrated in a Dec. 7, 2009 poll, which showed that US voters were more likely to elect a member of the Tea Party movement than a Republican.