Feature

The secrets of Glenn Beck's persistent popularity

Beck's media empire rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year. That's no accident.

It's no secret that Glenn Beck has a penchant for conspiracy theories. Especially those involving Muslims.

In this sense, his latest crusade shouldn't surprise anyone.

Beck is now accusing anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of being an agent for the Muslim Brotherhood. In Beck's looking glass, supporting relaxed drug laws, gay rights, and diversity are markers for covert theological authoritarianism. In Beck's words, Norquist must be "cleaned out."

Even for Beck, this one is out there.

Nevertheless, such haywire pontification won't endanger Beck's position as a conservative media influencer. With extraordinary guile, Beck has garrisoned himself in a three-rampart castle of contemporary conservatism. Indeed, earlier this year, CNNMoney reported that Beck's network, TheBlaze, makes between $35 million and $45 million a year, and that Beck's larger empire generates close to $80 million. Here's how Beck has managed to stay so popular with conservatives, despite losing his perch at Fox News, and while continuing to spout some pretty out-there theories.

1. Conservatives see Beck as Obama's opposite
Millions upon millions of conservatives across the country really dislike the president. In part, this is due to disagreements over policy. However, much of the ill-feeling is also about style. Where Obama is seen as the epitome of a "liberal elitist" — overly contemplative, somewhat distant, and perhaps a little aloof — Beck is seen as a conservative gun slinger, a "fire from the hip" true believer. Beck provides accessible "good vs. evil" explanations in a world full of complexity. His take on the Middle East encapsulates this dynamic. In short, Beck has sculpted himself as the man who never equivocates; the man who, both literally and figuratively, warms the conservative heart.

2. Worried conservatives appreciate Beck's unrepentant emotionalism
From the American left, it's popular to argue that conservatives dislike the president's agenda because they're racist. Or introverted. Or stupid. In fact, the simpler, deeper truth is that many conservatives have serious doubts about the Democratic Party's governing philosophy. With near unanimity, conservatives don't see the president's health care reforms as moderate or sensible, but instead as the breaching point for a welfare state. Conservatives don't regard Democratic spending proposals as balanced between investment and debt reduction, but instead as binge governance. Beck's unrepentant emotionalism — his energy, rhetoric and tears — find fertile pasture in this void of doubt. His fans might raise occasional eyebrows to his more outlandish assertions, but ultimately they see Beck as a leader worth listening to.

3. The Beck brand is everywhere
Whether he's marshaling conservatives to march on Washington or speaking on his network or through his books, Beck seems to be everywhere all the time. In the context of his previous experience at CNN and Fox News, Beck has earned a credibility born of diversified public presence. Liberals might detest him, but many conservatives see his success in, well, pure conservative terms — as an endorsement of his product. Alongside his varied platforms, this recognition grants Beck significant influencing power.

Glenn Beck doesn't and will never speak for all conservatives. But it shouldn't be hard to see why he does speak for so many.

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