Meet Hugh Hewitt, The Conservative Moderator

by Melissah Yang

The second GOP debate is just a day away, and all eyes will be on Republican candidates hoping to woo a percentage point or two from their fellow competitors. But if the first showdown was any indicator, the people asking the questions — moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, and Hugh Hewitt — could very well find themselves part of the story rather than simply reporting it (as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly did after challenging front-runner Donald Trump's relationship with women). While Tapper and Bash have been part of the apolitical CNN machine for years, Hewitt is a known right-leaning journalist, dubbed by The New Yorker as the "most influential conservative you have never heard of," according to his radio show bio. So, who exactly is Hugh Hewitt?

Born in Warren, Ohio, Hewitt was part of a mixed Catholic-Presbyterian family, a faith that continued strong into his adult days. (He reportedly attends Catholic mass on Saturdays and a Protestant church on Sundays.) He graduated from Harvard College and received his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1983.

After several different clerk posts, Hewitt worked in various positions under the Reagan administration, including deputy director and general counsel of the office of personnel management, general counsel for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and special assistant to the attorney general. In 1989, Hewitt oversaw the construction of the Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California — a self-described "Nixonian," the talk show host served two years as editorial assistant to the disgraced president — where he drew widespread criticism for backing a campaign to screen researchers attempting to use the facility's archives. Hewitt namely wanted to bar journalists such as Bob Woodward, half of the team whose reports broke the Watergate scandal and led to Nixon's resignation, from accessing the library's materials.

After leaving the library, Hewitt began his foray into radio in the 1990s, beginning with a weekend talk show for Los Angeles' KFI and eventually co-hosting KCET's nightly program Life & Times. He now runs a syndicated radio show that's heard in 120 cities nationwide every weekday. In the summer of 2000, he launched The Hugh Hewitt Show, which has grown to become one of the country's most popular conservative news programs. Republicans know to do their homework before sitting in the hot seat on his show, which is listened to by 2 million weekly listeners, according to his show's website. Hewitt has also worked as a law professor at Chapman University since 1995.

Hewitt has positioned himself as a reliable voice among Republicans who's unafraid to challenge candidates with tough questions as well as push back against what he calls a liberal bias in mainstream media. In fact, since January, Hewitt has interviewed nearly every Republican candidate on his radio show so it won't be the first time they've sat across from him. It was on his show that Jeb Bush ignited a flurry of headlines in February after saying he wouldn't hesitate to start a third Bush war. Earlier this month, Hewitt hosted Trump, who famously tripped over a series of questions on his show, prompting the front-runner to call the journalist "third rate" for using "gotcha" questions. (Sorry, Trump, Hewitt may be many things, but third rate is not one of them.)

Hewitt is a creature of habit, asking every guest on his program the same two questions — whether they've read The Looming Tower and whether Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. Chances are Hewitt will skip his go-to queries during the televised debate, but there's no doubt he'll dig deep to force candidates to speak intelligently on the important issues.

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