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From Boxers to Brawlers: How Rush Limbaugh Turned the Reagan “Morning in America” Crowd into MAGA Marauders!

I miss Rush Limbaugh every day, particularly Monday through Friday at 9:00 Arizona time when his show would come on here. My engagement with Rush started sometime around 1989 or 1990, and I stuck with him ever since. I paid attention to not only what he said but how he said it and, perhaps most importantly, what he didn’t say.

You could always tell when Rush strongly disapproved of a policy, or more likely a politician, but did not want to call them out by name on his show. He always provided time for those with views he disagreed with to come on his show and see if they could explain their points. Occasionally—Arnold Schwartzenegger’s appearance comes to mind—they were so muddled that even after several set-ups by Rush, they were incapable of making a serious argument. Rush listened politely, then revealed his honest thoughts after the guest was gone. Which, if you hung around with Rush every day, you probably knew anyway.

Rush grew over time. By that, I don’t mean the Beltway version of “grown,” in which you become a liberal, but he matured from seeing a Mr. Nice Guy, deferential analyst to one who clearly saw that the Left in this country knew no rules, would never “play fair,” and should expect no mercy in return. Through the George W. Bush years, he saw on multiple occasions when Republicans held power narrowly; they generously offered opportunities to let the Democrats participate as near equals. Yet when Democrats gained control—even by a single elector or single vote—they ruthlessly cut Republicans out of any part of the process. Rush came to see that attempting to win them over with fairness on the “high road” not only didn’t work, but it smacked of weakness and lack of conviction in their own views.

Slowly he began to make the transition from a “play nice”/”take the high road” guy—a boxer in the Reagan mold—to a “meet them on their own field/fight fire with fire” brawler in the Trump/MAGA mold. As Rush taught, every day in this three-hour graduate class in American politics, he came to scorn the Republicans of the Bob Michel variety. Michel was the Republican Minority Leader in the House from 1981-1995, and if one observed his career, it seemed like his central objective was to “lose gracefully.” This, of course, was the chief attribute of John McCain and Mitt (“Minion”) Romney. In the 2012 campaign, who could forget the moment in the debates that Romney had Barack Obama on the mat and, rather than move in for the final blow, backed off and let moderator Candy (“But I’ll Eat Anything”) Crawley protect the wounded candidate? Or who could forget John McCain suspending his campaign in the 2008 race over the economic meltdown when Obama gleefully plowed ahead?

Rush never abandoned the Gipper and always held Reagan in the highest regard. So it is ironic that it was Rush who brought the right from the good-natured boxer who played by the Marquis de Queensbury rules to the brawler Trump who came ready for a cage match. Nevertheless, it was indeed Rush who pulled his audience along, playing for them clips of sheer nastiness on the part of Democrats, who saw no vulnerability that was off the table. Rush steadily pushed his audience to accept that in Washington, nothing gets done by being polite, and failure to stop the Democrats always resulted in death and destruction.

Toward the end, Rush even began to divest himself of his own practice of never saying anything bad about Republicans in office on the grounds that the media would do plenty of that and that his job was not to be “balanced” but to “BE the balance.” When Rush saw what the establishment, smoke-doggie insider GOP backstabbers were up to with Trump, he called them out. It would not be a misstatement to say that Rush brought us to the new arena with the cage, and Donald Trump taught us how to fight in it. Thank God. Today’s MAGA will never return, as seen by numerous MAGA candidates and politicians from J.D. Vance to Kari Lake to Majorie Taylor Greene to Matt Gaetz.

Rush left us a number of amazing gifts, but perhaps the greatest was to turn the supply-depot, parage-ground army of “nice” Republicans into the fierce, tough, take-no-prisoners MAGA marauders that we are today.

 

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