How Did Hugh Hewitt Become the GOP’s Go-To Pundit?

Why Hugh Hewitt is suddenly the Republican establishment’s go-to pundit.

John Jay Cabuay
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
March 13, 2015, 12:42 a.m.

Be­fore Hugh He­witt would an­swer my ques­tions, he had a con­di­tion: Through the pro­du­cer of The Hugh He­witt Show—his 15-year-old ra­dio pro­gram that touts 2 mil­lion weekly listen­ers—he in­formed me that I would need to first an­swer his ques­tions, on air.

Hours later, I was live on his show. “I got a note from my pro­du­cer today, as­so­ci­ate pro­du­cer Mar­lon, say­ing you want to meet up with me and do a pro­file on me, which I think is about as dull as pos­sible,” He­witt said, “but is that true?”

“That’s true,” I replied, “and he told me you only would chat with me if I chat­ted with you first.”

“That’s it,” He­witt said. “That’s my rule on pro­files, be­cause I al­ways want to get the re­cipro­city go­ing, be­cause we can now find you and play this tape end­lessly, and you answered two ques­tions straight that should ru­in your repu­ta­tion in journ­al­ism.”

The two ques­tions He­witt was re­fer­ring to are staples of his show, and he poses them to just about every first-time guest: Have you read The Loom­ing Tower, the 2006 book by New York­er writer Lawrence Wright about al-Qaida and Septem­ber 11? And second: Was Al­ger Hiss a So­viet spy?

(RE­LATED: Carly Fioir­ina: Chief Clin­ton Ant­ag­on­ist)

This is de­cidedly not stand­ard con­ser­vat­ive ra­dio fare; but He­witt, a pro­fess­or of con­sti­tu­tion­al law who of­ten sounds the part, isn’t a con­ven­tion­al right-wing talk-ra­dio host (and he prefers the term “cen­ter-right” any­way). His pro­gram, which he has long called “Na­tion­al Pub­lic Ra­dio for con­ser­vat­ives,” is the brain­i­er cous­in of the shout-fests that blast out of many AM sta­tions.

Con­ser­vat­ive ra­dio per­son­al­ity Hugh He­witt in the stu­dio in Cali­for­nia. (Slav Za­toka)

On this par­tic­u­lar af­ter­noon, He­witt was feel­ing play­ful; two lla­mas were run­ning loose in Ari­zona, so the ver­sions of the ques­tions I got—”Have you read The Loom­ing Llama?” and “Was Al­ger Hiss a So­viet llama?”—were vari­ations on his typ­ic­al theme. (My an­swers: “I think that was stream­ing over the In­ter­net live this af­ter­noon” and “I think he was con­victed of per­jury; I’m not sure about his llama status.”) But, nor­mally, He­witt takes these two ques­tions quite ser­i­ously. “It’s a great re­veal to me. It tells me everything I need to know,” he says later, ex­plain­ing why he asks the Al­ger Hiss ques­tion. “I find out if some­body is know­ledge­able and hon­est. And if someone says I know who Hiss is and I don’t know wheth­er or not he was a spy, they are either very lazy or they’re not telling me the truth. And the reas­on they don’t want to tell me the truth is the Left hasn’t let go. They can’t let go of that.” 

The day be­fore, He­witt had posed the real ver­sion of his Loom­ing Tower ques­tion to a far more in­flu­en­tial guest: Jeb Bush. (Bush said he had not read it, and He­witt re­spon­ded by telling him, “I think it’s the most im­port­ant book on the war.”) It was one in a series of ag­gress­ive but in­tel­lec­tu­al in­quir­ies he posed to the former gov­ernor; He­witt began the in­ter­view by ask­ing wheth­er Bush, if elec­ted, would be overly cau­tious about launch­ing a “third Bush war.” (“I wouldn’t,” Bush replied, and a cas­cade of head­lines fol­lowed.) He­witt fin­ished up with an even more poin­ted query: “Gov­ernor, what’s the mes­sage to the newly emer­ging demo­cra­cies that the world’s old­est demo­cracy keeps re­cyc­ling Bushes and Clin­tons and Clin­tons and Bushes? Does it send the wrong mes­sage to the Ni­geri­as and the In­di­as of the world about dyn­asty?”

These were hard-hit­ting ques­tions, but it was also easy to see why Bush had chosen to make He­witt’s show his first stop on the talk-ra­dio cir­cuit since he pub­licly began his nas­cent pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. While oth­er talk-ra­dio per­son­al­it­ies like Laura In­gra­ham and Rush Limbaugh have been tear­ing Bush limb from limb (In­gra­ham: “Jeb and Hil­lary could run on the same tick­et”; Limbaugh: “That tick­et would be a mod­er­ate wet dream”), the back and forth with He­witt was guar­an­teed to be high-minded. “He is tough but fair, as they say,” notes Tim Miller, a seni­or ad­viser for Bush’s PAC, ex­plain­ing the reas­on­ing be­hind de­b­ut­ing Bush on He­witt’s show.

(RE­LATED: The Trouble With Be­ing Jeb)

In 2005, The New York­er be­stowed upon He­witt—who, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a na­tion­ally syn­dic­ated ra­dio host, has au­thored more than a dozen books and is a weekly colum­nist for both The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner and Town­hall.com—the title of “Most Fam­ous Con­ser­vat­ive Journ­al­ist Whom Lib­er­als Have Nev­er Heard Of.” But to the ex­tent that this is still true today, it won’t be the case for long. The day be­fore the Bush in­ter­view, Salem Me­dia Group, the con­ser­vat­ive com­pany that pro­duces He­witt’s pro­gram, had an­nounced a part­ner­ship with CNN on three Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial de­bates this fall. And they named He­witt as the first con­ser­vat­ive fig­ure who will get to ask ques­tions of the can­did­ates.

His se­lec­tion was widely praised, in­side the party and out. “This. Is. Awe­some,” GOP strategist Rick Wilson tweeted. McKay Cop­pins, a seni­or polit­ic­al writer at BuzzFeed, pre­dicted on Twit­ter that He­witt “is prob­ably the most likely to ask a de­bate ques­tion that knocks a can­did­ate out of the race.”

One month earli­er, He­witt had notched an­oth­er big achieve­ment by break­ing one of the biggest polit­ic­al stor­ies of the year: that Mitt Rom­ney wouldn’t be run­ning for pres­id­ent. He­witt not only was the first to defin­it­ively re­port that Rom­ney was out—con­tra­dict­ing in­ac­cur­ate re­ports from The Daily Beast and Bloomberg—but he had the full script of what Rom­ney was about to tell his top sup­port­ers.

Hugh He­witt, in short, is hav­ing a mo­ment. He is not the most-heard talk-ra­dio host, not by a long shot, with an audi­ence one-tenth the size of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Han­nity, ac­cord­ing to Talk­ers, an in­dustry trade magazine. Yet, as the 2016 cycle gets un­der­way, he ap­pears to be emer­ging as the pre­ferred pun­dit of the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment—a sort of bridge between the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots and elite Belt­way polit­ics. After my ap­pear­ance on his show, He­witt agreed to talk to me about his perch—and, as luck would have it, he was com­ing to Wash­ing­ton that very week­end: He’d just been booked for Meet the Press.

HE­WITT, 59, AR­RIVES a few minutes early to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. He had been up­stairs tak­ing a planned mid-morn­ing nap after a red-eye flight to Wash­ing­ton from South­ern Cali­for­nia, where he re­cords his show. He is wear­ing thick-rimmed glasses, a sim­il­ar cut to the style Rick Perry has been sport­ing of late, a blue sweat­er, a full head of white hair, and the de­mean­or of a friendly aca­dem­ic.

He­witt ap­peared on Meet the Press earli­er this month with New York Times re­port­er Helene Cooper. Un­like many con­ser­vat­ives from out­side Wash­ing­ton, he doesn’t act­ively des­pise Belt­way cul­ture. (Wil­li­am B. Plow­man/NBC/NBC News­Wire via Getty Im­ages)

“There are two kinds of people in our busi­ness,” He­witt says of the talk-ra­dio world. “There are people in our busi­ness who came out of the disc-jockey side who have no dis­cern­ible ideo­logy. They’re there for rat­ings. “… And then there are people who came out of the side of the busi­ness where they be­lieve things and they en­joy talk­ing about them.”

He­witt is firmly in the lat­ter camp: He sees ra­dio journ­al­ism as a means to a polit­ic­al end. He talks about “my busi­ness, my pas­sion—which is to build a bet­ter Amer­ica us­ing my plat­forms as a means of do­ing that, im­pact­ing polit­ics in the right way.” He was an out­spoken Rom­ney back­er in 2008 and 2012, but this cycle, he says, “I have no dog in this hunt.” In­stead, he has cul­tiv­ated friend­ships in nearly every cam­paign, if not with every prin­cip­al. When Sen. Ted Cruz came to Los Angeles to meet with a group of Rom­ney bund­lers last year, it was He­witt who mod­er­ated the event. “Rick San­tor­um, he trusts me. I think Rand Paul trusts me. Ted trusts me. Scott Walk­er I’ve sat down with a num­ber of times. [John] Kasich is a friend,” He­witt says. “But I’ll ask them the toughest ques­tion I know how to ask.”

He gets the chance be­cause al­most all of them ap­pear on his show. In the last week or so, he’d had Bush on, plus Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Don­ald Trump had stopped by and He­witt had asked about his read­ing habits, eli­cit­ing a tongue-twist­ing an­swer that began, “Well, I read a lot,” and ended with, “I just don’t get to read very much.” Says He­witt, “I have cred­ib­il­ity with just about every­one that I’m not go­ing to blow them up”—at least not un­fairly. Or, as Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Re­ince Priebus puts it, “It goes down to trust.” 

(RE­LATED: The GOP’s Dis­ad­vant­age Against Hil­lary Clin­ton: They Keep Hav­ing to An­swer For One An­oth­er

But it’s not only con­ser­vat­ives who seem to trust him. When Dav­id Axel­rod, Pres­id­ent Obama’s long­time chief strategist, went on the pub­li­city cir­cuit to pro­mote his re­cent book, his first con­ser­vat­ive talk-ra­dio stop was with He­witt. (Fox’s Bill O’Re­illy was Axel­rod’s first con­ser­vat­ive TV ap­pear­ance.) “Let’s be hon­est—and this isn’t lim­ited to talk ra­dio on the Right—there are those for whom the an­swers are just in­ter­ludes for them to catch their breath between ques­tions. I think he asks ques­tions genu­inely in pur­suit of an­swers,” Axel­rod told me. “We live in a time where it is very hard for people to reach across the chasm and make con­nec­tions with folks on the oth­er side and treat each oth­er like people, and I felt like Hugh did.” Axel­rod stayed on the show for more than an hour.

He­witt—who grew up in War­ren, Ohio—may be com­fort­able with lib­er­als in part be­cause he has been sur­roun­ded by them since his col­lege days at Har­vard, where his room­mates in­cluded Mark Gear­an, who would go on to serve as Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or, and Dan Pone­man, who served as deputy En­ergy sec­ret­ary un­der Pres­id­ent Obama. “If you’ve got lefties in your life, you’re not go­ing to hate lib­er­als,” He­witt says. “They’re just people. They’re just wrong.”

He ar­rived at Har­vard three weeks after Richard Nix­on’s resig­na­tion, a tough time to be a young Re­pub­lic­an if ever there was one. “A col­lege Re­pub­lic­an was like a curi­os­ity,” Pone­man re­calls. “He was just the way he is now. He was un­abashed; he was bold; he was smart.” (Fun fact: Their ad­viser as un­der­grads was then-grad-stu­dent Alan Keyes, the Re­pub­lic­an whom Obama beat to win his Sen­ate seat in 2004.)

Gear­an, whom He­witt called “my closest friend in the world,” says he would use He­witt as a con­ser­vat­ive touch­stone dur­ing his days de­vel­op­ing mes­saging for the Clin­ton White House. “I would have a bead on where the Right was in my con­ver­sa­tions,” Gear­an says. “I don’t know that we’ve con­vinced each oth­er, but I have learned a lot.”

After col­lege, He­witt worked as an ed­it­or­i­al as­sist­ant for Richard Nix­on, help­ing him re­search his book The Real War. He­witt sub­sequently at­ten­ded law school at the Uni­versity of Michigan, where he was class­mates with Anne Gust, now the wife of Demo­crat­ic Cali­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown. “I think Anne is among the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I’d like her to run for the U.S. Sen­ate. I might ac­tu­ally sup­port a Demo­crat, if Anne ran,” He­witt says. “And when Jerry steps down, I’d like Anne to run for gov­ernor be­cause she’s just so smart. She can run Cali­for­nia.” (For the re­cord, He­witt also says he hopes Con­doleezza Rice runs for statewide of­fice, to per­haps give the state’s woe­ful GOP a fight­ing chance.)

Fol­low­ing law school, He­witt went to clerk for the D.C. Cir­cuit, but the judge he was work­ing for fell ill, so he did brief stints with a series of oth­er judges: Robert Bork, Ant­on­in Scalia, and Ruth Bader Gins­burg, among them. He soon joined the Re­agan ad­min­is­tra­tion, where he worked in the White House coun­sel’s of­fice with a young law­yer named John Roberts, now chief justice of the Su­preme Court.

In 1989, he moved to Cali­for­nia to help Nix­on open his pres­id­en­tial lib­rary, serving as ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, be­fore trans­ition­ing in­to ra­dio and then co­host­ing a PBS show in Los Angeles. He launched The Hugh He­witt Show in the sum­mer of 2000.

Al­most since the start, his ra­dio pro­gram has fea­tured a reg­u­lar seg­ment with Er­win Chemer­insky, a lead­ing lib­er­al con­sti­tu­tion­al schol­ar. He­witt him­self is still fas­cin­ated by the law and is ac­tu­ally a prac­ti­cing law­yer (his area of ex­pert­ise: en­dangered-spe­cies law). “It’s far more sub­stant­ive and I think it’s far more soph­ist­ic­ated than most me­dia things I’ve ever been a part of,” says Chemer­insky, who typ­ic­ally ap­pears paired with a con­ser­vat­ive leg­al schol­ar. “He’s al­ways well pre­pared; he’s gen­i­al; he’s fair.”

“He’s a great voice for the Re­pub­lic­an Party to use from the per­spect­ive of the Re­pub­lic­an Party,” Chemer­insky adds. These days, the GOP lead­er­ship seems to agree.

IF RE­PUB­LIC­AN pun­dits fall on a scale from the bom­bast­ic right-wing­er Rush Limbaugh on one end to the civ­il­ized cent­rist Dav­id Brooks on the oth­er, then He­witt is Limbaugh-like in his ideo­logy but Brooks-like in his present­a­tion. In oth­er words, he’s an in­tel­lec­tu­al’s ideo­logue. “He sees him­self as a re­spons­ible al­tern­at­ive to so much of what’s out there,” Gear­an says. When I tell He­witt that one Re­pub­lic­an I spoke with called him a “gen­tle­man’s con­ser­vat­ive,” he smiles: “Oh, I like that.”

He­witt is pop­u­lar enough with the base to have hos­ted a na­tion­ally syn­dic­ated show for 15 years—and safe enough for the es­tab­lish­ment to thrust him in­to the de­bate spot­light this fall. In fact, it’s hard to find a He­witt hater any­where with­in the GOP. “Hugh’s hit­ting a peak,” says Dav­id Webb, a tea-party lead­er and now host of The Dav­id Webb Show on Siri­usXM. “He’s frankly gained the cred­ib­il­ity. It’s about do­ing what you do well, gain­ing the cred­ib­il­ity, and people come to you and say you have a voice and you have an audi­ence.”

He­witt is Limbaugh-like in his ideo­logy but Brooks-like in his present­a­tion.

He has a knack for land­ing on the most con­ser­vat­ive pos­sible po­s­i­tion a polit­ic­al prag­mat­ist could take. On im­mig­ra­tion, for in­stance, He­witt takes the same stance as those Re­pub­lic­ans who are con­cerned about per­man­ently ali­en­at­ing Latino voters: He’s for al­low­ing im­mig­rants who are in the coun­try il­leg­ally to stay, al­beit without cit­izen­ship or vot­ing rights. “We’re go­ing to let you stay here, and your kids are cit­izens,” he says. “Let’s get on with it.” He washes this some­what con­cili­at­ory po­s­i­tion down with hard-line rhet­or­ic more fa­mil­i­ar to the talk-ra­dio cir­cuit: “We ought to build one frig­gin’ big wall,” he says. “A big fence, tall, broad, double-sided, with a gate.” At the same time, He­witt is also agit­at­ing for an all-Span­ish-lan­guage de­bate between Marco Ru­bio and Bush at the West­ern Con­ser­vat­ive Sum­mit this com­ing June. “It would be a cul­ture-bend­ing event,” He­witt tells me ex­citedly, “and people would watch it even if they didn’t un­der­stand a word of it.”

He treads a sim­il­ar line on gay mar­riage. He op­poses it—”mar­riage between a man and wo­man is or­dained by God for the hap­pi­ness of hu­man­kind,” he wrote in 2012—but also avoids notes of hate­ful in­vect­ive. “This is not to say that single par­ents, or same-sex couples can­not be ter­rif­ic par­ents,” he went on. “They can be, of­ten far bet­ter at it than mar­ried couples who are ter­rible, hor­rible par­ents from whose ‘care’ chil­dren must be re­moved.”

More than any­thing else, though, He­witt is a for­eign policy hawk. He didn’t serve in the armed forces, but he mar­ried in­to a mil­it­ary fam­ily, ty­ing the knot with his wife, whom he al­ways calls “the fetch­ing Mrs. He­witt” on air, in the chapel at Camp Pendleton, the Mar­ine Corps base. “I’d take Re­agan’s for­eign policy 100 per­cent straight line,” He­witt says. “Peace through strength. Give me a 600-ship Navy, spend 5 per­cent of GDP on a na­tion­al de­fense, wheth­er you need it or not, be­cause you al­ways need it.” He sum­mar­izes his philo­sophy this way: “Have more of everything than any­one, and no one will mess around with you.”

(RE­LATED: Why Obama’s War Au­thor­ity Re­quest Is Stuck)

This fall, he will likely quiz the GOP can­did­ates on na­tion­al-de­fense is­sues. “I am a na­tion­al se­cur­ity guy, first and fore­most,” he says. When Bush was on his show, He­witt pressed him about the size of Amer­ica’s sub­mar­ine fleet. Bush dodged, say­ing, “To be hon­est with you, I can’t give you an in­formed an­swer to that.” He and the rest of the GOP field would be smart to pre­pare for a fol­low-up, along with an opin­ion on ex­actly how many air­craft car­ri­ers the United States needs. “I ex­pect our pres­id­ents to know about Navy strength,” He­witt says. “I don’t know that any of them do.”

What’s not likely to be on He­witt’s de­bate dock­et are ques­tions about can­did­ates’ re­li­gious views. He is a de­vout “Evan­gel­ic­al Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Pres­by­teri­an” and a so­cial con­ser­vat­ive, but he has spe­cific­ally ruled out ques­tions about evol­u­tion, for in­stance. “I don’t be­lieve in ask­ing about per­son­al be­lief. It’s so an­ti­thet­ic­al to the found­ing. We’re not sup­posed to do that,” he told Bloomberg re­cently. And he has cri­ti­cized ABC’s George Stephan­o­poulos for his 2012 de­bate ques­tion about states ban­ning con­tra­cep­tion. In oth­er words, so­cial is­sues are out, and se­cur­ity is in—just the way the GOP elites want it.

HE­WITT’S RE­LA­TION­SHIP with the main­stream me­dia is com­plic­ated. While he views the main­stream press as clearly biased to­ward the Left, he also uses it to ag­gress­ively pro­mote his own show. “As soon as you’re done with the in­ter­view, I tell [my pro­du­cers], push this out—that’s the news, and that will at­tract the at­ten­tion to the full in­ter­view,” He­witt says. He reg­u­larly pro­duces tran­scripts of his Q&As. “There’s a dearth of sub­stant­ive tran­script in au­dio,” he says. “I’m feed­ing your need.” (Limbaugh sim­il­arly puts out tran­scripts, though of­ten they’re just of him talk­ing.) But even as He­witt re­lies on the es­tab­lish­ment press to amp­li­fy his con­ver­sa­tions, he also ex­plains that he puts out full tran­scripts be­cause “you don’t want the me­dia to fil­ter for you what [the guest] said.” 

His en­coun­ters with in­di­vidu­al re­port­ers from the main­stream me­dia and the world of lib­er­al pun­ditry can be com­plic­ated, as well. In 1990, when He­witt was ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or for the soon-to-be launched Nix­on Pres­id­en­tial Lib­rary and Mu­seum, he got in­to hot wa­ter for telling a Los Angeles Times re­port­er, “I don’t think we’d ever open the doors to Bob Wood­ward. He’s not a re­spons­ible journ­al­ist.” Today, He­witt says it was simply a “throwaway line.” The idea of screen­ing re­search­ers was quickly scrapped. He­witt sighs, “It will be in my ob­it­u­ary.” (He has had it in for the Times—where I used to work—for years. One of the last things he said to me be­fore I de­par­ted the Ritz was, “For an L.A. Times alum, they didn’t ru­in you.”)

Con­ser­vat­ive ra­dio per­son­al­ity Hugh He­witt in his Cali­for­nia stu­dio. (Slav Za­toka)

He­witt fre­quently brings lib­er­al and main­stream journ­al­ists on his show. Some­times, these en­coun­ters go poorly. In one clas­sic case, from 2006, He­witt and the late White House cor­res­pond­ent Helen Thomas were spar­ring about journ­al­ist­ic cre­den­tials when she blur­ted out, “God knows what you are.” More re­cently, both Bill O’Re­illy of Fox News and Dav­id Corn of Moth­er Jones came on (sep­ar­ately) to speak about Corn’s piece dis­put­ing O’Re­illy’s claim to have been in a “war zone” in the early 1980s. The Corn in­ter­view was hos­tile from the start and ended with a hang-up more than 40 minutes in.

Yet of­ten He­witt’s in­ter­views with non­con­ser­vat­ives are re­spect­ful and genu­inely en­ga­ging. The late Chris­toph­er Hitchens was a re­cur­ring guest and oc­ca­sion­ally would ap­pear for the full three hours, as he did in 2010 to dis­cuss his auto­bi­o­graphy. Colum­nist E.”ŠJ. Di­onne has made mul­tiple ap­pear­ances (“my fa­vor­ite lefty,” He­witt has called him), as has Jonath­an Al­ter (“one of my lefty ra­dio pals”). In­tro­du­cing Al­ter dur­ing a 2013 in­ter­view, He­witt de­clared, “My team needs to read the oth­er team’s play­book, and Jonath­an has it.” These days, al­most every Fri­day, he has on Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. And un­like many con­ser­vat­ives from out­side Wash­ing­ton, he doesn’t act­ively des­pise Belt­way cul­ture. He says, “I love green rooms,” and notes that Mark Leibovich “has been on the show a lot.” (In­deed, He­witt had Leibovich on for the full three hours when his book on life in Wash­ing­ton, This Town, came out.)

He­witt’s ap­proach to deal­ing with the main­stream press is, es­sen­tially, eager and wary at the same time. And so, when journ­al­ists ask to pro­file him, his typ­ic­al re­sponse is the same one he gave me: He’ll talk to them, but first they need to come on his show. “It’s a screen­ing device,” He­witt tells me. “It is a test about good in­ten­tion. If someone is writ­ing a genu­ine pro­file—I’m not that in­ter­est­ing, I’ve been pro­filed a lot—but if they won’t come on first, I think that they have an agenda that they’re hid­ing. And a lot of people turn me down.”

In 2005, when he was ap­proached about a pro­file by The New York­er‘s Nich­olas Lemann, He­witt agreed to co­oper­ate only if Lemann would par­ti­cip­ate in a He­witt-writ­ten pro­file of Lemann. (“Mu­tu­al-as­sured de­struc­tion,” He­witt jokes now.) He­witt would later trail Lemann for two days around Columbia Uni­versity’s gradu­ate school of journ­al­ism—”the highest temple of a re­li­gion in de­cline,” as He­witt would de­scribe it in the pages of The Weekly Stand­ard—where Lemann was the new dean. The piece ended up be­ing less about Lemann and more about, in He­witt’s words, “the col­lapse of cred­ib­il­ity of the main­stream me­dia.” It doesn’t get much more meta than He­witt pro­du­cing a piece for a con­ser­vat­ive magazine about the de­cline of ob­ject­ive journ­al­ism, which cen­ters on a non­par­tis­an journ­al­ist who is in the midst of pro­fil­ing him for a main­stream magazine.

THE DAY HE­WITT broke the news that Rom­ney wasn’t go­ing to run for pres­id­ent, he hadn’t ex­actly been burn­ing up the phones to score the ex­clus­ive. A Rom­ney con­fid­ant—”a close source to the gov­ernor’s fam­ily,” He­witt says—had come to him, per­haps know­ing He­witt had cham­pioned Rom­ney be­fore, per­haps re­mem­ber­ing He­witt’s flat­ter­ing 2007 book (A Mor­mon in the White House? 10 Things Every Amer­ic­an Should Know About Mitt Rom­ney), or per­haps re­call­ing a Politico Magazine piece on Rom­ney he cowrote last year titled, “Third Time’s the Charm.”

“It was a give,” He­witt says of how he ob­tained Rom­ney’s pre­pared re­marks. “I think the in­ten­tion was to make sure that his state­ment was fully put in one place.” He pos­ted the tran­script in its en­tirety at hugh­he­witt.com, and it zoomed to the top of the Drudge Re­port while gar­ner­ing an ava­lanche of links from Twit­ter, Face­book, and across the Web.

From the 2012 Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee (Rom­ney) to the front-run­ner in 2016 (Bush), every­one in the GOP elite, it seems, is a fan of Hugh He­witt right now. Priebus, the RNC chair­man, is no ex­cep­tion. When I flagged him down in the halls of the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence to ask about He­witt’s grow­ing in­flu­ence, he stopped and ges­tured to a man stand­ing with him. “This is his son!” he ex­claimed. It turns out James He­witt is an RNC deputy press sec­ret­ary, as­sist­ing the party with out­reach to right-lean­ing me­dia out­lets. As for the eld­er He­witt, Priebus wasn’t stingy with his praise. “He’s a star on talk ra­dio and a star in the con­ser­vat­ive me­dia circles and someone who I think is reas­on­able but tough,” he told me. “And I think he’s very well re­spec­ted no mat­ter where you fit in in our party.”

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