Donald Trump’s Presidential Candidacy Owes a Debt To Rush Limbaugh

Donald Trump Owes Rush Limbaugh for
REUTERS/Brian Snyder/newscom

The “Why didn’t anybody see Donald Trump coming?” debate in political/media circles has given way to the “What’s responsible for Trump’s popularity?” analysis. Although there is an abundance of explanations, it increasingly feels like Trump represents the inevitable fruit of the great talk-radio oak that is Rush Limbaugh.

Throughout his presidential run, Trump has astounded the punditocracy with seemingly outlandish statements that once would have torpedoed electoral chances, or at the very least warranted apologies. That began with a remark in which the candidate pooh-poohed Sen. John McCain’s war service, questioning whether the former prisoner of war qualified as a true “hero,” and proceeded to include impolite utterances about plenty of others.

Observers have waited for the fallout, time and again. But the Republicans supporting Trump ate it up — in part because they have been fed a daily diet of sometimes over-the-top, always colorful vitriol for the past quarter-century.

Limbaugh, obviously, is hardly the sole purveyor of this approach, or the lone provocateur — on either side of the spectrum — capitalizing on the confluence of entertainment and politics. Still, most of those who have successfully followed in his footsteps have studied that playbook, and among the rhetorical bomb-throwers, he and author Ann Coulter probably come closest to the inflamed artery Trump has tapped — including their shared, unabashed glee in discussing the hundreds of millions of dollars that Limbaugh’s talent, “on loan from God,” has brought him.

Through the years, Limbaugh hasn’t been immune to controversy, and his show has been downgraded to lesser outlets in some major cities, including Boston and Los Angeles — notably after calling law student Sandra Fluke a “slut.” The radio titan was also thrown for a loss during a stint as an NFL commentator for ESPN, where his 2003 remarks about the media rooting for black quarterbacks prompted a rather hasty exit.

“Republicans supporting Trump have been fed a daily diet of sometimes over-the-top, always colorful vitriol for the past quarter-century.”
@blowryontv on Twitter

Nevertheless, Limbaugh’s willingness to offend hasn’t done anything to alienate his most ardent fans (or “Dittoheads,” as they’re known); rather, their bond seemingly has grown stronger thanks to that attribute throughout the duration of the  Obama presidency. And just as talk radio represents a relatively small media niche, the hefty contingent of GOP primary voters who show loyalty to Trump is, in the broader scheme of things, a subset of a subset, accounting for less than 10% of the population, as statistical guru Nate Silver has noted.

To be clear, Trump’s rise has less to do with politics than it does with providing a flourishing environment for the crop he brings to the table. As Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” recently suggested, talk radio has served as “the seed, or the fertilizer, for Donald Trump’s success.”

There are assorted reasons Trump’s message has resonated with certain voters — from his outsider status to his blunt talk to perceptions of strength and leadership advanced, in part, by hosting on “The Apprentice” — but the key point is the mogul’s ability to ignore from the get-go the niceties and conventions that normally surround political campaigns.

From that perspective, Limbaugh hardly created Trump, who gradually built this profile through innate media savvy, including his regular phone-in appearances on “Fox & Friends.” But the candidate does owe the host a debt for helping to cultivate the conditions for a campaign where outrageousness is considered as much an asset as a liability.

The powerful influence of talk radio and Fox News has come with warnings, such as commentator David Frum’s assertion following the 2012 presidential election that Republicans have been “fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative-entertainment complex.” Yet while Trump might have forged a path that’s rare in politics, seen through the prism of radio, he’s playing a very familiar tune.

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  1. Nicholas says:

    Why don’t you post a stupid picture pic yourself like you did with Trump? Just another obvious media Hack.. Lol

  2. Ted Faraone says:

    Brian, this is a very excellent story. But there is a chicken and egg question that it begs. How the heck did people become so divided over politics? My experience, and before I went into TV I was trained as an economist at Columbia, is that the most rabidly partisan tend to be the least informed of our electorate. In fact, one of my good friends, who supported Obama in 2008, now supports Trump. Go figure.

    It does not seem to be so much a right-wing phenomenon as a disgust with government phenomenon coupled with xenophobia. Since there have been hard economic times in America, which our “unemployment rate” disguises because it does not count as unemployed those who have exhausted their unemployment benefit but still look for work, there has been a net exodus of Latin American immigrants from the US. Trump’s statement that the Mexican government “sends” rapists and murderers to the US is pure baloney. But millions believe him. In fact the only people “sent” to America by the Mexican government are their diplomats. (The only time a Latin American nation sent its criminals to America was during the Mariel Boatlift, and Jimmy Carter opened the door to Fidel Castro to send us his convicts. South Florida dealt with the crime wave they brought for two decades). And I think it is a really stupid idea for Americans to pick fights with nations adjacent to the US.

    The economic fact is that until incomes in Latin America rise to rich-country standards, Latin Americans will continue to emigrate in search of better work. These people do not need to be insulted by Donald Trump.

    So we go back to the chicken and egg question. Was it xenophobia and and disgust with the government that created the likes of Limbaugh and Trump or was it created by a political movement which has nothing to do with the likes of John McCain, Ronald Reagan, or Eisenhower?

    Does the internet feed this movement? I should think so because the standards of journalism of most people whose posts and blogs I read are really sub-par. Jayson Blair was better than they are. And did the FCC do all of us a disservice by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine? Should we blame Mark Fowler? Hope someone has a better answer than I have.

  3. Jerry B. says:

    Trump’s success has less to do with, as you say, an outrageous environment cultivated by the likes of Limbaugh and FNC, and more to do with the outrageousness of the Obama administration. I for one am absolutely sick of BHO’s foreign policy, DOJ double standard, national debt, lack of leadership of racial matters and illegal immigration, and the list goes on. He’s a disaster and it will take an outrageous person like Trump to get the country from far left back to center. The things you call outrageous only seem so in the context of 8 years of absurd liberalism and political correctness. In any other era, Trump would be taken as common sense.

  4. Two peas in a very bloated pod. If you think about it, Limbaugh and Trump are a lot alike. Both misogynists, both appeal to the worst members of our society and both capable of saying absolutely anything reprehensible and mean-spirited and never, ever apologizing.

  5. Bill B. says:

    What a list! Limbaugh, Trump and the fortunately unimportant Coulter are among the craziest and most offensive famous people in the country. Their behavior is why they are famous, particularly in the case of Limbaugh and the so offensive it can’t be real Coulter.

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