How Rush Limbaugh Influenced the Growth of the GOP
By Deborah Lambert
There’s no doubt about it. Talk radio came into its own during the reign of Rush Limbaugh.
Today, both political parties readily acknowledge that Limbaugh provided major league momentum for the Republican Party’s transformation from 1993 into the Trump era. President Trump himself, who honored Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, came forward with congratulatory comments, noting that the positive words from Rush provided him with the necessary momentum to conquer the crowded field when he ran for president.
Limbaugh was widely praised for his ability to influence the Republican Party to achieve momentous victories in the 1990s, especially
in 1994 when the Republicans won the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.
Mark Steyn noted after Limbaugh’s death that during his career as a media personality, “there were genius GOP consultants who, in reaction to any electoral setbacks, would insist that what the GOP needed to do was come up with a way to ditch Limbaugh. As I said on air many years ago: Really? For almost a third of a century, Rush's audience was over half of the total Republican vote. How many do all you genius ‘Republican reformers’ bring to the table? I've recounted previously the first time I was asked to guest-host, back in 2006, that there were twenty-five to thirty million listeners.”
After Barack Obama became president 12 years ago, it didn’t take long for the Republican Party to realize it was noticeably short on leaders. After considering the depth of this problem, many launched across-the-board positive messages for radio host Rush Limbaugh as the nation's preeminent GOP voice.
MSNBC reported that “this did not sit well among some conservative officials. Then-Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), for example, dismissed Limbaugh as a quirky media personality who found it easy to "throw bricks" from outside public office.
However, it took about half a day before the Georgia congressman issued a groveling apology to the conservative media figure.”
This happened quite frequently during the first few months of 2009. After Limbaugh faced an army of naysayers who sneered at his efforts to rescue the country, then-Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) labeled his comments as the words of an "idiot." The South Carolina governor backpedaled soon thereafter. After then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele dismissed Limbaugh as little more than an "entertainer" who uses "incendiary" rhetoric, he apologized also.
Over and over again, a number of Republican politicians who denied that Limbaugh was effectively leading the GOP from behind a microphone, only to turn around soon afterward and express their undying affection for the host.
Larry Elder noted that “the American public didn’t realize "how bad the media was" until Rush Limbaugh came along and started shedding light on the bias. Elder said that's when "he first realized that people who hate Republicans like Rush Limbaugh not only dislike them, but also want to destroy their ability to make a living."
Recently, it turned out that these incidents represented a larger truth. As millions of supporters mourn Limbaugh’s death, there is no mistaking the power he wielded over Republican politics.
Deborah Lambert is the editor of The Party Line newsletter and a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.