Rush Limbaugh admits GOP's fiscal attacks on Obama were "bogus," defends Trump's deficit

Death of the deficit hawks: "Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore," says host who drove the Tea Party uprising

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 19, 2019 6:00AM (EDT)

Rush Limbaugh (Getty/Jim Watson)
Rush Limbaugh (Getty/Jim Watson)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh admitted that Republican fear-mongering over the federal deficit under President Obama was “bogus,” while defending the deficit's explosive rise to $1 trillion under President Trump.

During Limbaugh’s show on Tuesday, a caller suggested that Republicans should nominate a young fiscal conservative instead of Trump, citing the rising deficit. Limbaugh dismissed the concerns, declaring that fiscal conservatism was basically a sham all along.

“Republicans can nominate a young, potentially two-term president, one that believes in fiscal conservatism,” the caller told Limbaugh. “We’re gonna have — in 2019, there’s gonna be a $1 trillion deficit. Trump doesn’t really care about that. He’s not really a fiscal conservative. We don't, we have to acknowledge that Trump has been cruelly used.”

“Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore,” Limbaugh shot back. “All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”

That’s quite the statement from Limbaugh, who spent the entirety of the Obama years attacking the president over rising deficits. 

In 2009, Limbaugh ranted that Obama was a “coward” without the “spine” or “gonads” to admit he was responsible for driving up the deficit (rather than the two wars President George W. Bush started while cutting taxes). 

In 2011, Limbaugh bizarrely claimed that Obama was "the architect of deficits and debt unheard of in this nation."

The late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spent the entirety of his 2008 presidential campaign warning about rising deficits, CNN noted. The 2010 rise of the Tea Party, which fueled massive Republican gains in that year's midterm elections, was fueled largely by claims that federal spending was out of control. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan made an entire career out of rhetoric decrying the rising national debt. Then he led the charge to approve a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and corporations, leading to the $1 trillion deficit Republicans apparently no longer care about.

Trump himself vowed to be a savior, promising that he would eliminate not just the budget deficit but the entire $22 trillion debt within two terms as president during his 2016 campaign. 

"It can be done. ... It will take place and it will go relatively quickly. ... If you have the right people, like, in the agencies and the various people that do the balancing ... you can cut the numbers by two pennies and three pennies and balance a budget quickly and have a stronger and better country,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in 2016.

Later on Tuesday’s show, Limbaugh doubled down on his newfound believe that fiscal conservatism was never authentic, accusing former Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., of fear-mongering for expressing concern over the rising national debt under Trump. (Sanford has proposed mounting a campaign against Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020.)

"How many years have people tried to scare everybody about the deficit?" Limbaugh asked. "The years, how many decades of politicians tried to scare us about deficit the national debt, the deficit, any number of things. And yet, here we're still here and the great jaws of the deficit have not bitten off our heads and chewed them up and spit them out."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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