Most Influential American Conservatives

The London Telegraph has been rolling out its list of the 100 Most Influential American Conservatives, twenty at a time, all week. The exercise has been somewhat dubious, clearly seeming to be aimed (successfully) at attracting attention from American bloggers, and I’ve refrained from commenting on it until now. They’ve now released the final installment, #1-20, and I must says it’s one poorly conceived list. Or, mere precisely, it’s a pretty good list but a simply bizarre ranking.

Rudy Giuliani tops it, followed by David Petraeus, Matt Drudge, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Bob Gates, John Roberts, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee.

Now, most obviously, how does George W. Bush, the sitting president, not top the list? One could argue, as many have, that he’s not really a conservative. But, then again, it would be rather easy to make that argument about Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Bush actually comes in at #21. The explanation?

Bush fails to make our top 20 list because of his failure to shape conservatism or the Republican party despite an historic opportunity to do so after 2002. When he leaves office, his political influence looks likely to all but disappear.

Oh, he’s certainly shaped conservatism and the party. And his influence will certainly be around once he’s out of office: He’s committed us to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that will be ongoing, has two Supreme Court Justices who will long survive him, and has set all sorts of policies into motion that will be difficult to undo.

How in the world can Giuliani, a mere candidate for president, be ranked ahead of the people actually charged with administering American policy? And, really, Huckabee is more powerful than, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger?

How does Mike Pence (#19) get ranked ahead of all other Members of Congress? Not only are there many senior to him, many serving as ranking members of important committees, but there are some, notably Tom Coburn, who are more actively shaping the conservative movement.

Whether David Petraeus and some of the other military officers on the list (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs comes in 98 places behind Petraeus) should be considered “conservatives” is itself questionable. Surely, if that’s the case, the country is in trouble if a Democrat should succeed Bush as president.

Surely, Christopher Hitchens, who comes in at #27, has to be mortified. First, he would likely consider the label “conservative” a grave insult. Second, if he’s a conservative, he’s certainly more influential than several of the people listed ahead of him.

I suppose the main point of these lists is to generate discussion and this one has achieved that. But, surely, they could have at least made some effort at coming up with a good ranking.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Whether David Petraeus * * * should be considered “conservative[ ]” is itself questionable.

    You have got to be kidding me.

  2. Michael says:

    He’s committed us to wars in Iran and Afghanistan that will be ongoing

    Freudian slip, or do you know something we don’t?

  3. tommo says:

    How does George W. Bush, the sitting president, not top the list?

    Because no one believes a word coming from his filthy mouth.

    Everything he says is either an outright lie or a cheap and meaningless platitude: “We hate evildoers”. He needs to be put in prison now before he does more damage.

  4. Rand says:

    Duh, he doesn’t top the list because he isn’t conservative.

  5. psmarc93 says:

    TOMMO: The fact that he lies every time he speaks doesn’t mean he’s not an influential conservative. (I won’t make the obvious snipe here). However, although Bush has abandoned the conservative values of State’s rights, fiscal responsibility, and supporting a strong military (among so many other failures) he was unquestioningly supported during his elections and his tenure by the vast majority of the Republican party. He may have lied and betrayed all conservatives, but he also failed. If he had succeeded, no conservative would have cared that their values were flushed down the toilet for the sake of power. He does deserve to be at the top of the list. Bush is the Emperor of Conservatism — a morally bankrupt, thinly veiled ancient blasphemy of a doctrine named “might makes right.”

  6. Mark Jaquith says:

    He’s committed us to wars in Iran and Afghanistan that will be ongoing

    So that explains the strange increase in F-15 traffic in and out of Centcom in the past week. 😉

    But seriously… Rudy, a conservative? HA!

  7. Paul says:

    Any list would be controversial, among other reasons, because people will disagree on what it even means to be “conservative.” Resisting change? Trusting/respecting authority? Opposed to government intervention in free markets? But by any standard, this list does look remarkably absurd, especially with Guiliani and Hitchens whose temperments are not especially deferential to any opinion or authority other than their own. Guiliani would take every liberal position in the book and eat a conservative for supper if it would make him king. Meanwhile, if Hitchens were king, would the country change or stay the same? The obvious answer plainly shows that whatever he is, he is by no means “conservative.”

  8. Carl Gordon says:

    Boosh acts like a fifth grader? He’s unable to admit failure or stupidity?

    The answer must be to mainline Imitrex straight into the skull. Let the gibble jabble mix with the willy nilly, then you’ll find him going down the drain. Through the twists and turns, then you’ll come out doing the back stroke down the great, green, greasy Limbpopo River, if you know what I mean. Well, then everything will make sense. Especially as you give Laura a well-oiled and bemused grin. Her arms will wave and her gums will flap non-sensically as if they were tied by strings, just like Boosh, and being pulled by an unseen puppet master some where in the dankest recesses of some clandestine diabolical bunker, three miles below the low-tide mark, where scum sucking zygotes and lower forms of humanity hide their worthless asses from the light of reason and reality. But you will not be afraid of her or his madcapped gesticulations and giggling genuflections, for you are the annointed one. The one which has been annointing hiz sef’ all afternoon with the bubbly carbonated incantations of the Mead of the Druids. Some call it Breesky, some calls it Suds, you may even call for the Bud. Newts, salamanders, and mud puppies alike will all march past not only in astonishing formations (the judges liked what they saw!), but in impressive numbers, despite being dispirited over the lingering Korean black dog meat boycott still in effect. And that nasty, nasty stick of butter never materialized until it was time to retire for the evening.

  9. Philadelphia Steve says:

    This kind of gives the lie to the story that General Petraeus’ statements in front of Congress were not “politicall based”, doesn’t it?

  10. Paul says:

    This kind of gives the lie to the story that General Petraeus’ statements in front of Congress were not “politicall based”, doesn’t it?

    That was understood to be a lie by most everyone at the time he was delivering the Bush message to congress. However, there were still a handful of Bush faithful who were still manufacturing some indignation about that at the time. Now that their accountability moment has passed, however, they’re quick to pad their boy on the back.

    Adding to this, it turns out that Patraeus’ press officer is rampantly partisan. Check out his regretable exchange with Glenn Greenwald.

  11. Pat Ryan says:

    Here’s my list in order.

    Cheney (the hand in the back of Bush’s shirt)
    Scaife (one of the early and top financiers)
    Luntz (the word meister)
    Kristol (the articulator of neo-con theory)
    Hadley (Cheney’s gatekeeper and enforcer)

    The limbaugh, drudge, hannity, malkin, billo, crowd are really just tools of the trade and don’t merit mention as opinion makers. their job is just to “push the propaganda” as Bush has said.


    Of course none of the clowns mentioned above is an actual conservative in the classic sense like say: John Warner, Bob Barr, Richard Vigurie, Orrin Hatch, and the old warhorse John Ashcroft.

  12. Paul says:

    I find it sad that on this list, there are no conservatives. There are “neo-cons,” however neoconservatism bears less resemblance to conservatism as it does to straight-forward fascism, which is not conservative at all, but is actually radical. I heard one of the leaders of the American Enterprise Institute (a neo-con organization) state this quite clearly and candidly, saying that he himself was not a conservative but a radical. I do with regular Americans who continue to call themselves would get this memo: there are no more conservative politicians in the GOP, so please stop voting in more authoritarian radicals.

  13. Schwarzenegger is not on that list, he’s on the most influential liberals list, along with, uh, Colin Powell. The Telegraph folks are wacky.

  14. Philadelphia Steve says:

    Re: “I find it sad that on this list, there are no conservatives.”

    I disagree.

    Conservatives has changed to be what we see from NeoConservatives now. They control the Republicanparty and everything on the “Conservative” agenda.

    There are no “Barry Goldwater” Conservatives left in charge of the “Conservative” (Republican) Party inthe US. And they will never come back. So, please stop pretending the George W. Bush and his cronies are “not Conservbative”. They are because that is what Conservatism has become and there is not one single “True Conservative” who did not vote loyally for President Bush in 2004. And there is not one sinlge “true Conservative” who will not loyally vote for whomever the Republican Party nominates for office, no matter what candidate gets the nod.

  15. Paul says:

    Steve, I see what you’re saying about the conservatives turning into neoconservatives. However, as I said before, in so changing, the conservatives became very unconservative in their philosophy, doing a 180 degree reversal from a good century of conservative ideology. Just because they were once called conservative doesn’t mean they should be called that any longer. Do you call a butterfly a caterpillar?

    This distinction is important, as it’s crucial for people to understand that the GOP is no longer conservative. Therefore, “true conservatives” (none of whom voted for Bush in 2004, unless they were profoundly misinformed, which, unfortunately, is what happened) need to know that they need to funnel their support elsewhere if they want to advance their ideology. I think most conservatives got so wrapped up in the “us-vs-them” mentality of the blue dress Gingrich days, that they unquestioningly hitched their wagons to anything the GOP did or said, without distinction. Now they’re stuck supporting woefully unqualified politicians and the American Taliban. I think many American conservatives are looking for a way out of this cul-de-sac.

  16. Philadelphia Steve says:

    Your description of “what happened” to Conservatives is, I beleive, correct in so far as it goes. However I disagree with your assertion that Conservatives “were fooled” in 2004.

    By 2004 we had No Child Left Behind and the Prescription Drug Entitlement programs already passed. As a card-carrying Liberal, I agreed with most of those programs except for the modern-day Conservative addition to them, being that:

    “No program is to be paid for directly. Everything is to be put o the credit card for others to pay.”

    However Conservatives (Neo- and otherwise) do worship power, and the money that comes with power. Therfore I beleive that Conservatives knowlingly voted for George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress in order to retain power among their preferred political party (The Republicans). And that is what President Bush and the Republican Congress delivered: Power to their cronies and money to their special interests.

    That is what I fully expect to see in 2008: Conservatives everywhere will decide that they want the power and money that control of Congress and the White House brought to them once (no matter what the cost to their contry), and will vote unanimously Republican in the 2008 elections.

    The chorouses of “we were fooled again” will be sung reliably in 2009.

    Tht is as guaranteed.