Rush Limbaugh bears responsibility for Donald Trump's rise in the polls and the subsequent disaster that has befallen the Republican Party, says a prominent conservative.
Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and now a columnist for the Washington Post, laid the blame for Trump's ascent at Limbaugh's feet in his March 28 column.
"If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, one of the main reasons will be that many in the conservative movement found him acceptable. And one of the main reasons that many conservatives are finding Trump acceptable is that the most influential political talk radio host in history, Rush Limbaugh, has provided his blessing."
Gerson noted that while Limbaugh never endorsed Trump (noting that Ted Cruz is the obvious choice "if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote"), he nonetheless gave him favorable coverage, including passes on his early gaffes.
For instance, when Trump declared to the Post last summer that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was "not a war hero," Limbaugh rose to his defense.
Gerson also told how Limbaugh further excused any criticisms of Trump as coming from "a cliquish, elitist club," or "the establishment."
Ideological Purity: no longer a priority for Limbaugh?
What particularly bothered Gerson is how Rush Limbaugh enabled Trump, who is liberal on most issues -- noting Trump's support of a single-payer health care system, higher taxes for the wealthy, and opposition to entitlement reform -- to gain so much traction.
"For decades, Limbaugh set the tone of popular conservatism by arguing for ideological purity. Now, the great champion of conservatism has enabled the rise of the 'least conservative Republican presidential aspirant in living memory' (in the words of Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs)...This is the politician Limbaugh has given the ideological hall pass of a lifetime."
Furthermore, Gerson wrote of how the tone of politics brought about by Limbaugh, Trump, and others goes against, not for, conservative principles. Most Republicans, Gerson said, "view casual misogyny, racial stereotyping and religious bigotry as moral failings, in their children and in their leaders. And they oppose — as a matter of faith or philosophy — any form of populism that has exclusion, cruelty or dehumanization at its core."
Not Alone In Critiquing Limbaugh
Gerson is not the first to accuse Rush Limbaugh giving "The Donald" favorable treatment.
The Atlantic Monthly noted Limbaugh's support of Trump in January.
"Without admitting it to himself, more fully than ever before in his long political-talk career, Limbaugh has abandoned conservatism as his lodestar. All else being equal, he still prefers the ideology. But it's now negotiable. He'd rather have a non-conservative nominee who attacks and is loathed by the Republican establishment than a conservative who is conciliatory and appealing to moderates.
"And Trump was uniquely suited to bring him to this point."
Travis Hale, a longtime listener to Rush Limbaugh, wrote in the Hill on October 15 of last year that Limbaugh's "tacit endorsement of Trump, now occurring daily during his show, is almost impossible to understand."
A January 19 editorial in Variety opined that "it increasingly feels like Trump represents the inevitable fruit of the great talk-radio oak that is Rush Limbaugh."
Rush: Trump Because of Obama, Republicans
On his January 25 show, Rush Limbaugh blamed Trump's advance on Republicans.
"The 2014 midterms gave the Republicans the Senate. So, yeah, they were midterms, but they were huge, huge Democrat landslide defeats all the way down the ballot. On every issue that matters, on every issue that drove the turnout in 2010 and 2014, on every issue that not only drove the turnout, but resulted in massive Republican victories, the Republican Party took a dive. They did not make one serious effort at stopping Obama. Now they want to stop Trump. But they made not one effort to stop Obama...If the Republican Party had actually been opposed to Obama and acted like it, the vacuum would not have existed making it much more difficult for Trump."
The Death of the Conservative Movement?
Limbaugh has recently backed off on his support for Trump. On his February 15 show, for instance, Limbaugh criticized Trump's performance at a Republican debate, as transcribed by Hot Air.
"Folks, there were a number of occasions where Donald Trump sounded like the Daily Kos blog, where Donald Trump sounded like the Democrat Underground, sounded like any average host on MSNBC."
Even so, Gerson notes the irony that Rush Limbaugh, who promoted political conservatism for so long, has unwittingly become one of the leaders of its demise.
"Populist anti-intellectualism, on the rise at least since Sarah Palin, has culminated in Trump. It is the passing of conservatism, even if Limbaugh baptizes the dead."
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]