Things have certainly taken a turn for the ugly in the Republican primary when one feels duty-bound to defend the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and yet here we are. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has issued a sniffy denunciation of Limbaugh and his fellow talk radio host Mark Levin for not doing more to shut down the Donald Trump train earlier, before Trump got a real shot at the Republican nomination. "But both men provided Mr. Trump with the margin of respectability he needed in the early months to make his campaign credible with Republican voters," he grouses, adding that it's a shame that Marco Rubio's easy march to the nomination will be hampered by " the ideological drunks who, when they knew better, cheered the Donald on."
Limbaugh is a scumbucket of a human being who wastes every drop of oxygen he inhales, and Levin is no better, but even they don't deserve this. Since when do talk show radio hosts owe Marco Rubio anything? Stephens takes it as a given that the hosts have a duty to shill for the Republican Party establishment, to use their talk show audiences to boost whoever the GOP props up as their favorite puppet. But that isn't actually a given. Limbaugh may be a garbage human being, but neither he nor any other host owes the Republicans free propaganda. They offer opinions, which even Stephens admits isn't all that pro-Trump, and the audience is free to accept or reject it. Welcome to the world of free speech, Bret.
It's hard to take these kind of hand-wringing anti-Trump missives from the right seriously, because anyone they offer as a superior alternative is just as much, if not more, of a monster than Trump. As Matt Yglesias at Vox pointed out on Saturday, the man that Stephens calls "the non-jerk of the season", Rubio, has a much more extreme agenda than Trump and is "offering a platform of economic ruin, multiple wars, and an attack on civil liberties that's nearly as vicious as anything Trump has proposed — even while wrapping it in an edgy, anxious, overreaction-prone approach to politics that heavily features big risky bets and huge, unpredictable changes in direction."
Instead of blaming Limbaugh for Trump's rise to fame, Stephens would do well to look at himself. Trump has risen to the top of the polls on a Mexicans-and-Muslims-are-coming-for-you campaign, and his supporters forgive him for everything else because they like the joie de vivre that he applies to the racist paranoia that is the lifeblood of modern conservatism. But the groundwork of racist paranoia was laid down well before Trump burst onto the scene, and Stephens was a big part of laying that foundation of racist that the Trump presidential campaign is built upon.
Stephens, after all, is the same man that compared building a Muslim community center in the same neighborhood at the World Trade Center to Germany building a monument to its own culture "down the road from Auschwitz." (Which would be weird, since Auschwitz is in Poland, but for what it's worth, the old Nazi headquarters are now a music conservatory, neatly disproving Stephens's assumptions about how the rest of the world handles the geographic spaces where historical horrors took place.) Stephens has been particularly eager to demonize Muslim immigrants, arguing after the horrible sexual assaults on the streets of Cologne that the German government shouldn't have been surprised because Muslim societies are "backward and often barbaric" and that people who came from them "behave in barbaric ways after they've shoved their way into the West". (Because no one from white Christian culture has ever groped a woman, you know.)
Stephens has long been pushing more aggressive behavior towards Iran, engages in hysterical rhetoric in order to discourage even trying diplomacy with the Taliban, and promotes the idiotic right wing talking point about how Obama's emphasis on avoiding war amounts to "coddling our enemies".
If Stephens wants to know why a presidential candidate who loves to talk about building walls on our borders and shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood is doing so well, then he needs to start by chastising himself.
But of course, Stephens's preferred candidate, Rubio, is, if anything, even more of a paranoid bigot who thinks piling up corpses as quickly as possible is the best way to improve relations with the Middle East that even Trump. As with every Republican tsking Trump publicly, the issue isn't a distaste for Trump's views, so much as displeasure that the man has to be so crass about it. Wanting to marginalize Muslims and wage unnecessary wars is all good and well, but does he have to have bad hair and a smarmy attitude about it?
It would be nice if both sides in this fight over propriety lost, but if someone has to win, it's hard not to root for Trump and his talk radio boosters. Everyone involved is a bigot, but at least Trump and his buddies don't have airs about it. Limbaugh and Trump really don't owe the GOP establishment anything, much less putting on a show of being better people than they actually are. And the more you scold them about it, the more they and their followers are going to rebel.