Is Rush Limbaugh Betraying Conservatism with Donald Trump?

Trump, who went to elite schools, earned an Ivy League diploma, and inherited a ton of money, is an excellent candidate for the “establishment-elite political club.” As Friedersdorf explains, Trump was invited -- he was a guest of sitting Vice President George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention. In fact, Trump was part of the “in-crowd” for the Clinton presidency, donating $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation and enjoying the Clintons' presence at his wedding. In 2012, Mitt Romney sought Trump out for his endorsement.

Instead, Friedersdorf argues, Limbaugh likes Trump because he identifies with him. Like the media mogul, “the talk-radio host also got fantastically rich selling ego, bombast, and brazenness to the masses, elitist tastemakers be damned.”

Rush Limbaugh’s summary of Trump’s story -- not being the right “type” to be invited into the “establishment-elite political club,” despite “overwhelming success in whatever you do” -- fits his own story better.

As late as June 2, 1992, Limbaugh was sympathetic to Pat Buchanan in the Republican primary, despite the fact that George H.W. Bush was the sitting president. When Ross Perot entered the race, Limbaugh was sympathetic to him, too. “Say what you want about his lack of specificity, he’s also the one candidate who doesn’t run from a problem.” Sound familiar?

But on June 3, President Bush invited Limbaugh to the White House, where he stayed the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. “From that day forward Limbaugh never said one word on his show that could be construed as hurting Bush’s re-election effort,” The Atlantics James Fallows noted in 1994. “Having proclaimed for years, and with good reason, that his show was so entertaining that it didn’t need guests, he had both Bush and Quayle on the air and listened to them reverently.”

Friedersdorf describes Limbaugh’s father as “a prominent small-town lawyer who looked down on his son’s infatuation with radio.” The Atlantic writer explains that “the on-air bravado and effusiveness of Limbaugh and other born DJs is very often accompanied by shyness and uncertainty in normal life.”

After struggling for many years to get traction, Limbaugh finally made it. Friedersdorf says that “by objective standards” he was “a failure well into his thirties.” Limbaugh had two short and unsuccessful marriages, was fired from many DJ jobs, and spent five years worried that his radio career was over.

Anger at the Establishment

Limbaugh’s anger at the Republican “establishment” also derives from his commitment to conservative principles. As Friedersdorf acknowledges, the radio master “couldn’t help but observe the ways in which a series of Republicans he championed, from Newt Gingrich to George W. Bush to Tom Delay, cynically exploited movement conservatives, only to disappoint them time after time after time.”

Limbaugh is not kidding himself -- the radio champion of conservatism never deigns to pretend that Trump is a National Review kind of guy. But he is willing to bolster the media mogul’s image as an anti-establishment maverick, either because he identifies with him or because he just hates the “in-crowd” enough to allegedly betray conservatism.