by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Rush Limbaugh’s conservative radio talk show debuted on August 1, 1988, at the tail end of Ronald Reagan’s years in the White House. Limbaugh was little noticed initially and arrived too late to have much impact on the Reagan presidency. Still, the broadcaster and the president did have a post-presidential mutual admiration society. Limbaugh called Reagan on air “Ronaldus Magnus”: Ronald the Great. And by 1992, Reagan had already dubbed Limbaugh “the voice of conservatism.” Limbaugh would have a more tangible and direct impact on every subsequent presidency of his life, which ended yesterday at 70.
George H. W. Bush, Reagan’s successor, was less in tune with the conservative movement than Reagan, and it showed. Bush won over conservatives with his famous pledge at the 1988 Republican National Convention, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Unfortunately for Bush, he broke that pledge with the 1990 budget deal that he made with Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, infuriating conservatives and causing himself political problems. Roger Ailes, an informal adviser, urged Bush to cultivate the radio host. As White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner recalled, Ailes, who would later produce Rush’s TV show, got Bush “on to meet Rush Limbaugh and do a show with Rush Limbaugh.” Later, Bush would have Limbaugh as an overnight guest in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom; the president even carried Limbaugh’s bag for him. Bush ended up losing the presidency in a three-person race to Bill Clinton, but Limbaugh’s sway over the conservative base had been established. …
… Limbaugh was adamantly opposed to Bush’s successor Barack Obama, but he nevertheless remained part of the White House conversation. In January 2009, before Obama’s inauguration, Limbaugh gave directionless conservatives marching orders: “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.” Conservative opposition to Obama became the universal approach.