Rush Limbaugh stood to a room of cheers at Tuesday’s State of the Union address. After Limbaugh’s revelation Monday that he has stage four lung cancer, the president awarded him the highest civilian honor in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Limbaugh, visibly moved and humbled, stood beside his wife as the First Lady presented him the medal on the president’s behalf.
This was not the president’s first gesture of warmth in the wake of Limbaugh’s sad revelation. The president took to Twitter to cheer him on, saying, “Many people do not know what a great guy & fantastic political talent the great Rush Limbaugh is. There is nobody like him. Looking for a speedy recovery for our friend!”
The two men are known to be friendly and frequently golf together at Mar-a-lago. But apart from their friendship, Trump should feel a great bond with Limbaugh. After all, without his three decades of on-air bombast, bluster, and fearless defense of his audience, there likely would not be a President Trump.
Although few could have known it then, Limbaugh seems to have been the voice calling out in the wilderness, preparing America for a Trump presidency. As America came to love Limbaugh, it would soon come to love Trump. Here are four ways Limbaugh paved Trump’s way to the White House.
1. Not Accepting the DC Elite’s Excuses
When Republican lawmakers had every excuse for not defeating or repealing Obamacare after promising to do so for a decade, Limbaugh wasn’t hearing any of it. “In the past, we’ve gotten lip service…but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear them say, ‘Well we actually can’t. Yeah, we want to repeal it, but it would be very tough to do, and besides, we can’t really do it until we get the White House back…’”
Limbaugh called these excuses out for what they were: a smokescreen for thwarting the will of the people. In some cases, that’s even meant Limbaugh not taking excuses from Trump himself. When Trump signed the massive omnibus spending bill in 2018, Limbaugh gave the president flak for it. Both men see that Washington’s “business as usual” has done little for the average American, so both balk at the ways of Washington’s deep state elite.
2. Bringing Big Ideas Home for Average Americans
When Limbaugh first went on the air 32 years ago, it was unheard of that a conservative commentator would fill three hours of air time with few phone calls and almost no guests. Instead, it was just one guy with a microphone, an opinion and guts.
People were transfixed. Limbaugh educated a generation of casually conservative voters about the fundamental principles and concepts behind their beliefs. Especially to Boomers, he took conservative principles out of the Buckley-esque ivory tower and put them where they mattered: in their daily lives.
While no one is praising Trump as a thought leader in the way Limbaugh has been, he’s undeniably made conservative ideas tangible for average Americans. In the chants “Lock her up” or “Build a wall,” he may not be quoting Cato, but he’s making a connection between policy and Americans’ everyday lives.
3. Cutting Through B.S. with Surgical Accuracy
If Limbaugh and Trump shared a mantra, it would be, “Sorry, not sorry.” They call them like they see them and don’t flinch. One of Limbaugh’s signature moves is taking down opposing opinions with both bravado and merciless logic. Sure, he might dress down a liberal caller as a “cheap bastard,” but not without eloquently explaining why his argument on the minimum wage is wrong.
Long before the Trump “Access Hollywood” tape was a gleam in CNN’s eye, the liberal media jumped on Limbaugh in 2012 for calling a female law student a “slut” and “prostitute” for advocating for employer-funded birth control. While Limbaugh did apologize for the personal insults, he stood by the nerve he struck.
Americans heard the left arguing that unlimited birth control, paid for by taxpayers, is a fundamental right. As he does, Rush called B.S., and his fans cheered. Such a masterful takedown would not be seen again until the 2016 election, when Donald Trump called nonsense on Elizabeth Warren’s bogus Native American heritage, dubbing her “Pocahontas.”
4. Reassuring Americans Their Values Are Worth Upholding
Like Trump, sadly Limbaugh’s private life sometimes runs counter to conservative ideals. He’s been married multiple times. He came out publicly about his addiction to prescription painkillers in 2003, struggling for several years after with relapses, drug charges, and stints in rehab. Still, his audience was fiercely loyal.
In both Limbaugh and Trump’s cases, their public has forgiven them sins that would have destroyed many others. In fact, many choir boys rush to their defense. Why? Because they are a powerful voice that defends their audience’s right to believe as they do and not be judged for it.
In a too-perfect example, comedian Al Franken once wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.” It’s true that Franken eventually became a senator, but both Limbaugh and Franken have faced very public accusations of sexism. Today, only one of them still has a successful public career—and it’s not Franken.
Ultimately, Limbaugh and Trump are loved and hated for the same reason: because they’re successful. Limbaugh revolutionized talk radio and spawned a generation of fierce conservatives.
Some people hate Trump and mock everything from his geography gaffes to his appearance. They’ve done the same thing with Rush. All of this mockery and vitriol is just an attempt to thwart their real success in revolutionizing American culture and politics. But just as Limbaugh has succeeded, so will Trump—because they, not their adversaries, understand what makes America tick.