There is no question that Rush Limbaugh is the single most influential leader of the Conservative Movement in the United States today. But Rush took a bad step 17 years ago and he thus is partly responsible for the disarray we find ourselves in today. An explanation…
Late 1991 and early 1992 President George H.W. Bush - Bush 41 - was running for re-election and had Big Trouble on his right flank from Pat Buchanan. Bush had reversed his No-New-Taxes-Read-My-Lips pledge and indeed allowed a tax increase - a big No-No to the Reagan Wing of the GOP. And he had blasted some on the Right as “extra-chromosome conservatives.”
With Buchanan scoring well in the polls and getting a good vote in the New Hampshire primary, the Bush Team needed help on the Right - and quick. So they invited Rush for an overnight stay in the White House Living Quarters.
Rush has told this story on his show many, many times. He was greeted by the President. “Rush, Rush, is that you?” The voice preceded the President’s arrival in a waiting area where Rush was sitting with his suitcase, which the President of the United States picked up and carried to Rush’s bedroom.
Who wouldn’t be impressed by a President carrying your bags?
The dinner that night upstairs with the President and Mrs. Bush - very kind and hospitable hosts when they wanted to be - was wonderful as was the after-dinner conversation. In sum, Rush was hooked. The Bushes had seduced him.
Indeed, from that night on, Rush Limbaugh became a key backer of Team Bush. Just a few months later - after Bush 41 had vanquished Buchanan and virtually secured the nomination - he faced yet another dire threat - this time from Ross Perot. And who came along and savaged the little Texan day after day, week after week with the most humorous and to-the-point parodies but Rush Limbaugh.
That fall in the general election again Rush did his damndest to ruin Bill Clinton, the Democrat nominee, and Perot who by that time had re-joined the race. But it wasn’t enough. And Clinton was our new President.
Rush Limbaugh believes in loyalty. And he remained loyal to the Bush Family, never forgetting his night in the White House. In 1999 and 2000 as another George Bush geared up to run for President, Team Bush made certain to get Rush on their side from Day One.
Thus Rush became one of G.W. Bush’s strongest advocates - and helped get him elected in 2000.
Throughout the eight years of Bush 43 Rush was always there for President Bush - always shoring up the GOP and the Right for him. But as things began to deteriorate - as the Republican Congress spent money like crazy - with nary a word from the Bush White House - and as the Bush Administration took the GOP and the Conservative Movement farther and farther from the political mainstream Rush only occasionally expressed veiled reservations over what was happening. But by 2008 he was tired of it all. He didn’t like McCain and didn’t want to have to support him. But there wasn’t an acceptable conservative in the race. So Rush, like many on the Right, swallowed hard and supported the GOP ticket.
And thus we have Obama - and a totally Democrat-controlled Congress today. The GOP and the Conservative Movement have become almost irrelevant.
Rush Limbaugh got suckered by the Bushes back in 1992. He fell for their patrician shtick. He then remained loyal to them. And he then fell for the G.W. Bush is the Son of Reagan campaign to secure the 2000 GOP nomination. He used his incredible clout on the Right to enable the Bushes to take over the conservative movement - which they did and then they drove it right over the cliff.
As much as Rush today is trying to right the ship, it will take years to get real conservatism back on track. Rush acolytes like Bobby Jindal are not the answer. And while Rush himself has become more beloved to his core audience, he has become radioactive to everyone else.
He cannot and will not be able to lead the conservatives back to power. He can help in that effort, but cannot be the Front Man for 21st century Conservatism.
Until a new leader of the party and the movement emerges - on his or her own and not as a puppet of anyone - we are going to remain in the wilderness.