Rush Limbaugh this week marked 24 years on his national radio talk show. (Brian Jones / Associated…)
Rush Limbaugh celebrated 24 years on his national radio talk show Wednesday, and that date is as good as any to benchmark when the country began its journey into a deeply polarized political climate. Limbaugh -- universally called Rush by friends and critics alike -- almost single-handedly started a narrative that recast Americans into conservative heroes or liberal villains, patriotic saviors or mainstream media dupes.
He was helped by the 1987 demise of the Fairness Doctrine, the longstanding regulation that required broadcasters to present both sides of a issue in roughly equal measure. He was perfectly poised to take advantage. A fervent audience quickly congealed around him and became the largest in talk show history. Some listen for three hours a day, alternately outraged by his latest discoveries of Democratic malfeasance or entertained by his often politically incorrect humor.
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As in the last presidential election, he seems lukewarm about the presumptive Republican nominee. In 2008, he ridiculed John McCain as a moderate until McCain got the nomination and took on Barack Obama. This year, he warned against nominating another moderate. But Mitt Romney has nothing to worry about. Rush is all about exposing, bashing and unraveling the Democrats, especially Obama. He will be Romney's hatchet until election day, urging his audience to take on liberalism in all its forms and disguises.
What influence will he have on the outcome? Probably not much in the places where it counts the most, the so-called swing states where a small percentage of voters remain undecided. These are not typically Rush's people. They vacillate, they don't pay attention until the last minute, they don't understand what is truly at stake. And for the most part, they don't tune him in.
But after the election, that's another story. If Romney loses, Rush undoubtedly will lead the crusade for an uncompromising, take-no-prisoners conservative to lead the party, and his hand will have been strengthened by the defeat of the man many in the party see as having been too accommodating to moderate sentiments in the past. If Romney wins, Rush will be able to claim credit for having rallied the party's base, a perennial and irrefutable point. Either way, his influence in the GOP will continue to grow.
After seven presidential elections, he always seems to come out on top.