Rush Limbaugh's pathetic Trump freakout tells you everything you need to know about modern conservatism

The right-wing huckster tried to pin blame for the Donald on Barack Obama earlier this week. Sorry, but no

By Bob Cesca
Published January 27, 2016 12:35AM (UTC)
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Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh (Reuters/Scott Morgan/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The party of personal responsibility continues to blame everyone except itself for the ascendancy of Donald Trump. This comes as no surprise, given how the GOP collectively lacks the self-awareness to grasp that its years-long strategy of blurting superficial, often racially-tainted patriotic memes, while encouraging pervasive anti-Obama hatemongering over serious policy initiatives.

Long gone are the days when Republican leaders reached across the aisle to get things done in a divided government, replaced by inchoate rage amplified by the knee-jerk derangement syndrome of both Fox News and AM talk radio. Taken as a whole, the GOP's reliance upon lies, non-scandals and the fear of outsiders with "exotic" names like "Barack Hussein Obama" opened the door for Trump, and his most vocal disciples who've been instructed by the conservative entertainment complex that it's okay to be overtly racist and politically childish.


Nevertheless, the same people who rolled out the red carpet for Trump continue to distance themselves from the neo-fascist chimera they themselves have been assembling for over 30 years.

Rush Limbaugh, of all people, did it on his Monday show. Rather than accepting responsibility for his race-baiting language and self-satirical lies about nearly everything -- behavior and language that Trump has adapted because there's a massive audience for it, thanks in part to Limbaugh -- the radio host instead blamed the Trump phenomenon on, yes, Barack Obama.

Said Limbaugh:


And Obama’s actually the starting point. It’s Obama’s radicalism that actually begins the process which creates a scenario where somebody like Donald Trump charges in to fill an absolutely, impossibly huge vacuum. Now, we knew who Obama was — well, I did — from even before he was inaugurated. I don’t know how many Republicans looked, or today even look at Obama as a radical anything. Many of them just see him as the latest Democrat. But he is far more than that. He is the most radical leftist that has been elected president, that has even gotten close to it. And because Obama was not stopped, because the Republican Party laid down — I’m telling, folks, Donald Trump would not have exploded. Donald Trump would not have thought to even do any of this, nor would any other outsider.

Nah. Donald Trump ran because the climate in the GOP was ready for his abrasive, xenophobic candidacy.

If it hadn't been for two decades of blurting and internet trolling, Republican voters wouldn't have necessarily been ready for Trump. Voters needed to be primed for Trump's lack of seriousness, as well as his nontraditional campaigning style -- eschewing political traditions like decorum, dignity and seriousness and marketed with the same vigor as has been heard up and down the AM radio dial; as has been heard on Fox News Channel and via sites like Breitbart, Drudge and, yes, The National Review.

Yet, once again, another right-wing screecher is leaning on the tired old "Thanks, Obama" meme. The very fact that Limbaugh blamed Obama for Trump with the same twisted logic as Sarah Palin blaming Obama for her son's domestic violence arrest is quite revealing. There's significant overlap between characters like Limbaugh and party leaders like Palin and Trump. They speak the same language, and one faction enables the other.


Elsewhere, Republican cable news analyst Alex Castellanos spoke a little more truthfully about who specifically is to blame for elevating Trump. Strangely, Castellanos concurred with my personal assessment in Salon the other day.

Indeed, Castellanos pointed directly at the authors of the "Conservatives against Trump" editorial in The National Review, specifically named editor Rich Lowry for clearing the way for Trump.


Well, I wrote actually last August-- I mean, what Rich is saying in National Review is not news. I wrote "Trump is the strongman we don't need" August of last year, and since then, have worked to try and find alternatives. Guess what, we don't have any. And whose fault is that? I think a lot of the fault actually belongs to the conservative intellectual leadership of America that you see in this issue of National Review. With the conservative cause that animates the Republican Party, we don't appeal to young people, we don't appeal to millennials, we don't appeal to young women, we don't appeal to minorities. We appeal to only cranky old white guys like me who end up voting for Donald Trump.

I wish I could more heartily applaud for Castellanos because he's exactly correct in this case. He deserves praise for speaking the truth about the hypocrisy of The National Review authors who utterly failed to take responsibility for their part in the Trump fiasco.

The problem is that Castellanos, too, is responsible for this crisis within the GOP -- a crisis that's sure to multiply like sopping-wet gremlins. Few will recall that it was Alex Castellanos who, while working as the chief campaign strategist for the late Republican senator Jesse Helms, helped to create one of the most infamously racist political ads in modern history.

Rewind to 1990 when Helms was running for re-election against an African-American challenger, Harvey Gantt. At the time, the race issue circulated more heavily around affirmative action than it does today, and the Helms team, headed by Castellanos, seized upon the race-baiting dog-whistles of the Southern Strategy to communicate directly to racist white voters in North Carolina. The idea was to scare up white votes by poking those voters with subtle and not-so-subtle anti-black propaganda.


So, Castellanos devised a commercial that became known as the "White Hands Ad." It showed a pair of white male hands crumpling a job rejection letter after the gig was given to a "less qualified minority" due to affirmative action.

That's -- that's pretty obvious, no?


Along with the 1988 Willie Horton ads run by Lee Atwater and the George H.W. Bush campaign, and even Mitt Romney's "Obama's ideas are foreign" attacks in 2012, for that matter, the "White Hands Ad" is perhaps one of the most horrendous examples of anti-black race-baiting since the ‘60s.

Castellanos built this, too. The race-baiting of years gone by, along with extremism on a variety issues, doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's all part of a continuum of awfulness that includes Limbaugh and Castellanos as prime suspects. The truth is that Trump is a natural extension of Republican politics, set in motion long ago and amplified over the years. The presumptive GOP nominee represents a terrible amalgam of Fox News punditry and GOP extremism, both of which are inextricably bound to the party establishment -- regardless of how hastily Limbaugh and others try to distance themselves from accountability for it.

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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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