Rush Limbaugh, who passed away on Wednesday, entered the national political landscape at a time, three decades ago, when his singular talents were sorely needed in America – after the exit of Ronald Reagan, and as liberals were gleefully proclaiming that the end of the Cold War had left conservatives high, dry and irrelevant. Spending the massive “Peace Dividend” was the new challenge, as Washington contemplated the “End of History.”
But Rush may now have just departed at the perfect time too – after the exit of Donald Trump, when the left is defining the Republican Party as lost and gradually disintegrating, its leaders and its voters irreparably split between Trumpers and Never Trumpers.
The truth is that both El Rushbo and The Donald were, like Reagan, great communicators. And what all three communicated were roughly the same set of principles.
Only on Monday, the Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn put it succinctly: “If we stick with the policies that made Donald Trump successful – deregulation, cutting taxes, moving the [U.S.] embassy [to Jerusalem] – those are standard conservative principles. He sold them in a unique way, but if the party stays with that it’s not a break with Trump and it’s not a break with its past.”
Economic freedom, getting government out of the way of investors and entrepreneurs, an America that asserts itself effectively in the world, supporting its allies and not losing wars, traditional moral values, judges who judge instead of legislate social revolution – in these general areas there is little difference between Reagan, Trump, and Rush. But what the death of Rush does – and it will dominate Fox News and other conservative media for days – is focus on the fact that these principles go beyond Trump, and were garnering majorities and working well in action pre-Trump.
They are ideas that succeed – but only when articulated effectively. Mitt Romney claiming to the attendees of the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference that he was “severely conservative” revealed not only that he wasn’t one of them, but that he didn’t understand them, plus that he was willing to hand them a line of baloney. No surprise this fake conservative lost as Republican nominee.
Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, understood everything about conservatism. As he often said, his 20 million listeners tuned in to hear their views validated; sometimes people who don’t live, eat and breath politics can’t always explain themselves eloquently. Rush could, and always did.
Socialism is easy to explain; there’s a problem, there’s a government, so the latter should step in and solve the former. The real world and real remedies require nuance in description. “’Trust me’ government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us,” candidate Reagan said in 1980. “Well my view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties … in the people.”
Candidate Trump in 2016 said, “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world. Reducing taxes will cause new companies and new jobs to come roaring back into our country. Then we are going to deal with the issue of regulation, one of the greatest job-killers of them all. Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year, and we will end it. We are going to lift the restrictions on the production of American energy. This will produce more than $20 trillion in job-creating economic activity over the next four decades.”
More than Reagan’s avuncular folksiness or Trump’s colorful toughness it was the meat of their agenda that got them votes. And Rush Limbaugh spent three hours every weekday diving deep into all the policies that worked – as well as the mischief of the misguided opponents of those ideas, including “feminazis” and “environmentalist wackos.” And he always made it fun – like a David Letterman of politics.
As Americans spend the next days appreciating how Rush did this, they will see that it can and must be done again – not by Rush or Reagan, obviously, and probably not by Donald or any other Trump, but by the great communicators of today and of the future. Knowing this will make the right grow stronger as it gets cracking to find those leaders of tomorrow.
— Written by Thomas McArdle