Donald Trump’s connection to the conservative movement to this day remains a subject of acrimonious dispute among the right-wing intelligentsia — some have embraced the 45th president as the movement’s authentic leader, while others regard him warily as an interloper, a New York Democrat who captured the party from the outside.
Nobody on the right ever disowned Rush Limbaugh. Throughout his career, they agreed he was a pure representative of conservative thought. George Bush courted him with an overnight visit to the Lincoln Bedroom and the presidential box at the 1992 Republican National Convention. National Review declared him “Leader of the Opposition” in a 1993 cover story. “Limbaugh is not fringe,” gushed Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti. “His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley.”
The Republican Party considered Limbaugh’s influence on their 1994 midterm sweep so profound they made him an honorary member of the incoming congressional class. “I am in Congress today because of Rush Limbaugh,” testified Mike Pence, in 2001. Upon news of his death, George W. Bush called him “an indomitable spirit with a big heart.”
Bush himself may have a big heart. Limbaugh oozed bile. He did not merely characterize his targets as misguided, or stupid, or even selfish. He rendered them for his audience as dehumanized targets of rage. He had special rage for feminist women, who were castrating harpies, and Black people, who were lazy, intellectually unqualified, and inherently criminal. The message he pounded home day after day was that minorities and women were seizing status and resources from white people and men, and that politics was a zero-sum struggle — and the victory would go to whichever side fought more viciously. [Continue reading…]