Rush Limbaugh's Evasive Embrace of Donald Trump

The talk-radio host is getting pushback from his conservative audience—and evading tough questions.

Micah Walter / Reuters

Why has the talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh given such positive coverage, over such a sustained period, to Donald Trump? Some of his conservative listeners want answers. Consider a caller on Tuesday’s show. Ted Cruz is someone who has proven his conservative character over years, the caller said, whereas Trump is “an overnight thing.”

He told the talk radio host, “I'm a character guy, which I believe that's who you are.” But the caller was beginning to have doubts about Limbaugh’s earnestness. Is the positive coverage he’s given Trump due to genuine faith in the candidate’s virtues? Or is Limbaugh boosting the insurgent campaign for entertainment value?

Here’s how delicately he put the question:

CALLER: I heard you say that you're an entertainer.

RUSH: Yeah?

CALLER: To me, you're also more than that—

RUSH: (sigh)

CALLER:—and I believe you know that, and so sometimes you have to walk softly. I think once—

RUSH: I am ... Okay, let me jump in here and translate what you're getting as 'cause I know exactly what you're getting at.

What followed was Limbaugh explaining himself to his audience in the most evasive way imaginable. It would be comical if he didn’t inspire so much misplaced trust from people who want the best for their country. “I've said I'm an entertainer,” he began. “ I've said that I do something that is not common in the media, and that is the combination of irreverent, sarcastic, parodic humor, and serious discussion of issues, with credibility on both. I've pointed out as an illustration, the old days of Nightline. If Ted Koppel had come out and opened Nightline with a 10-minute joke monologue, people would say, ‘What the hell is this?’”

He continued, “If Johnny Carson had come out and done a 20-minute monologue on dead-serious political issues before getting to the jokes, people would say, ‘What?’”

But Limbaugh is not bound by their categories. “I do both,” he said. “I cross over seamlessly from one to the other. You never know when it happens. So I don't deny I'm an entertainer; this is showbiz. But I also don't deny that I am deadly serious about the things I care about. And I definitely want certain things, ideas, to triumph, and others to lose, big time. So what you're doing ... I know your question is. We've had some similar callers on this recently. I know exactly what's going on here.”

Yes, what’s going on is obvious.

The audience wants to know whether Limbaugh thinks that Trump should be a top contender for the White House, a conclusion that regular listeners would naturally come away with, or whether conservatives should look elsewhere for a champion.

Clarifying would not require giving up satire or serious commentary. Nevertheless, he declined to do so. He paraphrased the caller: “You never endorse during primaries. So why are you supporting Trump? That's what all of that meant. That's what he was dancing around, trying to get to. Why are you supporting Trump when a guy like Ted Cruz is everything Trump is but the character to boot?”

His response: You’ll just have to trust me.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is very difficult. Can I ask you a question, a rhetorical question?” he said. “Those of you who've been listening here for at least ... Well, it shouldn't take more than five years, but let's say you've been listening the last 10, 15, 20 years. Are you confident that everything I do...? Are you aware, do you remember, do you take into account, do you fall on, do you rely on your experience with this program, combined with the intelligence you use listening to this program?

“Do you understand that I always have a purpose? Do you realize nothing is haphazard? You're wondering why I'm supporting Trump. Who says I am? Have I announced specifically that I am, or are you perceiving it? A better question would be: If you think that, why? And I can't go any further. I did with my brother last night. It's on record, if I have to go back and prove this, and I told Snerdley this morning about this. But I can't go any further here. It is what it is. I know it's a cliche.”

So there you go.

Limbaugh always has a purpose, and those who’ve been listening long enough, if they have sufficient intelligence, will discern it, or at least fall back on their general confidence in him. Put another way, his incentives—as an entertainer—may diverge from those of his audience. His listeners should recognize his evasiveness and that their trust in him is misplaced. Conservatives who’ve been complicit in this farce for years should come clean.