Today the GOP is a far-right party shaped by conservative broadcasters and provocateurs with little or no interest in the realities of governance. They see politics as a war, a conflict in which only total victory is acceptable under any circumstances. Commercial imperatives drive the media personalities behind this phenomenon, not a real sense of responsibility for the country, or even the future of the GOP. This simple calculation explains why they are so freely disseminating misinformation which, in 2021, has now proven to have deadly consequences.
This Republican Party is the party that Limbaugh and not Trump made. The party’s values and its approach are those that Limbaugh espoused and put into practice in his groundbreaking radio show. Its rise explains why the most visible figures of the GOP focus much less on politics than on triggering libs.
Like Limbaugh, most of the party’s elected officials argue that compromise is tantamount to surrender. As he insisted they must, they argue that Democrats are the enemy who want to destroy the American way of life. Any Republican who does not support extreme positions with absolute consistency and is unwilling to fight for them to the end, is, of course, a RINO or a Republican in name only a term that Limbaugh used with a savage efficiency in purging party heretics. Over time, this ever-expanding category has become as much about ethics as it is ideology. Thanks in large part to this Republican focus and, therefore, Limbaugh, American politics today is defined by a polarization that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to address national challenges.
Crucially, Limbaugh was a shock jock, not a journalist, politician, or traditional party leader. This meant that the style he displayed to millions of listeners every day was designed to draw audiences in and keep them glued to cars wondering what the host might say next. He took the shtick he’d perfected as a disc jockey in the 1970s under names like Rusty Sharpe and Jeff Christie and applied it to the politics he’d heard around the family dinner table. growing up.
The Limbaughs show was full of inflammatory rhetoric in December, it caused a sensation as it reflected, I actually think the trend was towards secession, goofy-themed updates, caustic nicknames and the occasional conspiracy theory. Over 32 years of programming, much of that rhetoric has turned into outright fanaticism, let it be said, feminism was established in a way that allowed unattractive women to enter the mainstream of the society, mocking those who die of AIDS or the 2008 parody, Barack, the Magical Negro. The Limbaughs program has portrayed politics as a soap opera, with heroes pitted against villains.
As copycat hosts emerged in Limbaughs’ wake, listeners bonded with them, handling their analysis and ratings as they would with friends or family. But this quality of dining room table belied the real influence of these hosts, since their audience precisely straddled the small slice of Americans who voted in the Republican primaries. Especially since the country was polarizing between red states and blue states and red districts and blue districts, alienating talk radio hosts could be politically deadly.
While Limbaugh has displayed a pragmatic tendency when it comes to getting the GOP to power and keeping it there, he has never shied away from criticizing Republicans. In 1992, for example, he urged listeners to express their disappointment with President George HW Bush by voting for Pat Buchanan in the New Hampshire Republican primary. Limbaugh’s allegiance to the party came on its terms; if a party pillar did not meet his criteria, there was always another candidate waiting behind the scenes. Over time, many of those rising through the ranks of the GOP looked like Limbaugh himself. They understood that it had become the key to the hearts of Republican voters.
Even as he pushed the party to the right, Limbaugh remained practical throughout its early years, acknowledging that politics is a deal. He provided a platform for leading Republicans who helped them convince them of their most ardent constituents, regularly hosting House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), And helping the party at times of the elections. But he never fully accepted the compromises demanded by governance. After all, as Republican Leadership Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.) Observed in the 1990s, there was nothing very entertaining about the nuance, and Limbaugh’s stock and trade and his offspring entertained listeners with a very clear and unambiguous message. Freed from any responsibility for governance, the hosts could focus on putting on a good show even if it raised unrealistic expectations that then imprisoned elected Republican officials or made governance impossible.
This trend of division and a consequent abandonment of pragmatism intensified as Limbaughs listeners became frustrated with the lack of conservative victories. In the late 2000s, he advocated a pure party, a party that fought fiercely against Democrats even when it was futile or reckless, while avoiding compromise at all costs. A special election in upstate New York showed how Limbaugh had changed. President Barack Obama won the district with 52% of the vote in 2008, and the race pitted a Democrat against both Republican Liberal MP Dede Scozzafava and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The Republican apparatus, including the Republican National Committee of Congress, threw its weight behind Scozzafava. This rabid Limbaugh, who said, we actually have two liberal Obama Democrats, one calling himself a Republican opposed to Hoffman, whom Limbaugh called a Conservative Reagan. When the Republican Party ran commercials against Hoffman, Limbaugh insulted that the party had a death wish and that it was then constituted was as dangerous to this country as the Democratic Party.
Scozzafava ended up withdrawing from the race and endorsing his Democratic opponent. While it might have cost a GOP seat, it pleased Limbaugh. He saw it as a good time to learn for those without a keen eye for the obvious. Scozzafava had shown that RINOs cannot be trusted. They are not principled. You’re going to vote them in the office and you’re going to get a cap and taxes, you’re going to get a version of Obamacare, you’re going to get tax increases, you’re going to get TARP bailouts, you’re going to get amnesty. During a Senate primary the following year, the host articulated Limbaugh’s new rule of primaries: In an election year when voters are fed up with liberalism and socialism, vote for the most conservative Republican in the primary. Period. For him, the biggest risk wasn’t losing an individual election, it was RINOS tarnishing the conservative brand and confusing the electorate into thinking they all looked the same.
Republicans understood that simply ignoring Limbaughs’ warnings could be perilous; Within weeks of each other in 2009, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele were both forced to apologize for lightly criticizing the host. He was more popular with their base than them. They couldn’t afford the most powerful force in conservative politics by questioning their dedication to the cause, producing blunt faces, a trend often seen later with Trump as well. This political reality led to the rise of what has been derisively dubbed Hope Yes, voting no to caucus Republicans who wanted to see the legislation pass, but would not vote for it for fear of a primary challenge reinforced by conservative media.
Neither the loss nor the potential political consequences mattered much to Limbaugh after all, he wasn’t in charge of getting elected Republican; he just had to put on a good show and maintain his connection with his audience. As the conservative media proliferated, he also had to guard against being overwhelmed by the competitors he had helped inspire. In response, he has largely abandoned his once pragmatism in favor of something more pungent and more exclusionary. After Obama’s re-election, and with the country rushing to the fiscal cliff, Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) made his initial proposal to the president for a deal to avoid the crisis. Even that was too much for Limbaugh who dubbed the press conference Boehners and offers a seminar on surrender.
This form of politics paved the way for Trump. While some might have questioned his conservative good faith, voters at the Republican base were thirsty for politicians who looked like Limbaugh. And the Trumps style is precisely one that is never dull, always in your face, riddled with nicknames and assaults on mainstream media. The fact that he proved to be largely incompetent in his supposed art form contract was largely irrelevant to his allies, which was surely another effect of how Limbaugh had shaped the GOP. Trump was obsessed with not alienating his base, which for decades had heard Limbaughs’ warnings and complaints about Republican politicians siding with their liberal enemies in Washington. The key was to crush them, not to make deals. This view of politics as war, and of those who attempt to rule as heretics, underlies the burgeoning Republican Civil War.
During Trump’s presidency, Limbaugh maintained his outsized influence to the point that when Trump wanted to restart his 2020 campaign after a fight with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, he held a radio rally for hours on the Limbaughs show despite an audience that was presumably already committed to the candidate. This show talked about the ethos Limbaugh brought to the GOP, one that will persist long after his last show. As he held it and as Trump held it, the only people who really matter are those who are listening. It is a formulation in which the public is the party and the party is the public, whether it is big enough to win or not. This premise goes beyond the simple rejection of bipartisanship, instead leading to the conclusion that even occasional dissent or bowing to basic political reality is unacceptable. The stakes are too high. This is the GOP that Limbaugh did. Trump only inherited it.
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