I have to confess that during Rush Limbaugh’s multi-decade career, I never watched his show or paid much attention to what he was doing and saying — mainly because I’m not a masochist, but also because following the actions of one bigoted narcissist has been more than enough for the last four years. Like most people I was aware of Limbaugh’s general political leanings and his role as a provocateur. In the weeks after Limbaugh’s death, my social media feed was filled with reminders of Limbaugh’s most outrageous moments — some I was already familiar with, some I wasn’t — like when he aired “Barack: The Magic Negro” or when he had a regular segment celebrating the deaths of Gay men. To be reminded of Limbaugh’s shameless displays of bigotry — which were always less of a dog-whistle and more of a foghorn — was a clarifying moment; a reminder that the Trumpism phenomenon did not begin, and will not end, with Trump and, a reminder that a line can be directly drawn from Rush Limbaugh to Donald Trump, Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and, more generally, the slowly rotting corpse of the Republican Party.
Much of social media blew up with celebrations of Limbaugh’s death — upon the news of his passing “rot in hell” and “good riddance” began trending on Twitter. Many expressed disgust at such trends and I must say that I also found the laudatory mood in the wake of his death unwarranted. Not because I cared that they were in ‘poor taste’ (I don’t care to give Rush any more respect in death than he did to the Gay men who died of HIV/AIDS), but because Limbaugh’s ideas did not die with him and are arguably stronger than ever.
When Trump ran for President, echoing the same kind of casual hatred mastered by Limbaugh, there was — at least to begin with — genuine and almost-unanimous opposition to his candidacy, and his ideas, among GOP politicians. Cruz called the then-candidate a “pathological liar”, while Lindsey Graham branded him a “race-baiting xenophob[e]”. Fast forward five years and Graham and Cruz are some of Trump’s biggest defenders.
Limbaugh’s death was simply a reminder of how much the ideology of Trump and Rush has captured the party of Lincoln. In the wake of his death, nearly all powerful GOP politicians — including supposed moderates — were quick to pay their respects to the radio host; heroizing the man who was pivotal in mainstream-ing the bigotry that got Trump elected. This week’s CPAC — which saw Ted Cruz promise Trump “isn’t going anywhere” and, saw supporters roll out a gold statue of the former President — was another reminder that the bigotry of Limbaugh and Trump (and Trump himself) aren’t going anywhere. The party that some 160 years ago stood against slavery and insurrection, is now a party whose ideology revolves around little more than hatred, division and a personality cult around it’s former, failed President. The Republican Party is now the party of Trump and, the reason for that is that before it was the party of Trump, it was the party of Limbaugh.