Before what would turn out to be an historic election, a New York Times article said, “If Larry King’s CNN program functioned as a nominating process for Ross Perot; Rush Limbaugh may be a kind of national precinct captain for the Republican insurgency of 1994.”
An election night poll by Fabrizio-McLaughlin of 1,000 people asked: “Who do you think has been more straightforward in discussing the issues of this election?” Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio hosts got 34.3 percent from the poll. The mainstream media got 26.9 percent.
On November 8 Republicans took the House as Limbaugh expected, and took the Senate to boot. Congress was under new management. Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Bob Dole was the new Senate Majority Leader.
Winning the caucuses in Louisiana and Alaska, then edging out Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary, it was a real possibility Pat Buchanan – who Rush endorsed for president four years earlier -- would be the GOP nominee in 1996. But Buchanan’s stances against the North American Free Trade Agreement and other free trade policies were too much for Limbaugh.
“I’ll tell you something, you are being manipulated in a way that I find very bothersome,” Limbaugh told Buchanan supporters after the New Hampshire victory. “Pat Buchanan is not a conservative. He’s a populist.” He also said, “Pat Buchanan wants to engage in policies that expand the role of government in people’s lives.”
Buchanan supporters made up a big portion of Limbaugh’s audience. Talk Daily did an analysis from February 19-23, 1996 and found that pro-Buchanan callers outnumbered by 3-1 pro-Dole, pro-Steve Forbes and pro-Lamar Alexander callers combined.
Did the sustained attacks impact the primary contest eventually won by Dole? Michael Barone, author of The Almanac of American Politics, thinks so. In an interview on Limbaugh’s show, Barone said, “You spoke out consistently against those things to the core audience that Buchanan was aiming at, and he failed completely.”