I used to do a local show on legendary 1040-WHO in Des Moines, the 50,000-watt blowtorch where Ronald Reagan was once sports director. My three-hour drive-time program aired immediately following Rush Limbaugh’s legendary radio show.
Like every other emerging talk radio host in the industry regardless of ideology, I was heavily influenced by Limbaugh, who was the trailblazer of the format. Jobs like mine wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the success Limbaugh had and continues to enjoy. Rush created an entirely new industry known as alternative (or conservative) media, which was birthed out of the success of his wildly popular radio program.
But as Rush enters the twilight of his brilliant career, we are learning that success does not always equal influence.
When I became a full-time “conservative” talk radio host in 2006, I had to go out of my way not to let Rush’s influence on me lead me to just doing a local rehash of what Rush had already done. I was only 33-years old and being given an influential platform in my community, and would’ve considered it an honor to be called the “local” Rush or the “next” Rush.
Then the 2008 Republican presidential primary cycle began.
There were several candidates I liked, but two stood out to me—California Congressman Duncan Hunter and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Hunter never seriously campaigned in Iowa. Meanwhile, Huckabee worked the state like his very political survival depended on it. I vetted Huckabee’s record closely, and found a couple of things that if I were in the Arkansas State Legislature I would’ve opposed at the time.
But of the candidates serious about winning my home state, he was the most consistently conservative. Nobody was stronger on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage – the two issues that according to a Biblical worldview are fundamental to any civilized society – and Huckabee was also a staunch Second Amendment advocate, as well as a proponent of shutting down the IRS and crony capitalism via the Fair Tax.
So imagine my amazement when day-after-day as I got set to go on the air I listened to Rush besmirch Huckabee as if he was some kind of 1970s-style West German Christian Socialist. At first, it had me doubting my decision to support Huckabee, and then I did my own homework and came to my own conclusion opposite Rush’s propaganda.
Obviously given the result of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses I was not alone.
Huckabee won a resounding victory in those Iowa Caucuses, despite the fact the two afternoon shows most influential to Iowa conservatives were giving two completely different versions of what Huckabee stood for. Rush would come on for three hours and give Huckabee the Bill Clinton treatment, and then I would come on the air and contradict almost everything Rush had just said.
The truth eventually won out and Huckabee won.
In previous eras there was no way Huckabee would survive such an onslaught from the Titan of Talk Radio, but he not only survived he thrived. How did this happen?
Perhaps the first clue could be found a few weeks later, when Rush endorsed the most liberal governor in American history—Mitt Romney, who in 2005 was named the No. 8 RINO in the country. Romney—the father> of healthcare mandates, $50 taxpayer-funded baby murder, a champion of sodomy, and the man who awarded over 60% of his judicial appointments to Massachusetts Democrats—was considered by Rush a Reagan conservative but Huckabee wasn’t?
Obviously the mystifying moral pretzel Rush had contorted himself into didn’t persuade too many others to do the same, because Romney never won another contested primary after Rush’s endorsement, and was out of the race altogether a week later.
If Rush is so influential beyond the cult of his personality or others in the industry that aspire to be like him, how is it possible the candidate he spent hours on his highly-rated radio program ripping won more primaries and delegates than the candidate he championed?
Fast forward four years later, and history is sadly repeating itself.
Limbaugh now says that Romney is not a conservative after endorsing him for president four years ago. Yet what’s changed about Romney since then? Romney hasn’t held elected office in the last four years, and if anything he’s flip-flopped to the right even more on issues like illegal immigration and global warming that he was still striking a RINO tone on four years ago.
Yet despite Rush’s sudden epiphany on Romney being more Arlen Specter than Reagan, Romney unfortunately remains a front-runner in the race. Rush’s latest cause célèbre has been trying to keep Herman Cain viable. Rush has devoted plenty of air-time in propping up Cain since his candidacy was racked by an alleged sex scandal, and it was revealed at least two of Cain’s former employees were given cash settlements after making sexual harassment charges.
Yet, since Rush began his latest crusade on behalf of Cain, he has lost as much as 14 points in one national poll, and is now statistically in a dead heat with Romney and Newt Gingrich. How come Rush’s efforts aren’t helping Cain?
Probably because Cain has proven repeatedly he doesn’t know anything about foreign policy, has the John Kerry position on the sanctity of life, has said repeatedly he won’t defend marriage as president, supported the TARP bailout scam of 2008, and believes states can override the Second Amendment on gun control.
Throw in the fact he wants to give Congress a new revenue stream to your checkbook, and this looks more like the platform for a Democrat candidate, not the worldview Rush has tried to defend and advance for years on the radio.
Yet Rush continues carrying Cain’s water to no avail, proving that no matter how big of a platform someone has you cannot mobilize people against their own will. Rush can move those who solely rely on him for their information, but in this social media age that is a group shrinking faster than Cain’s support. Others appreciate how Rush gives the Left what-for each weekday, but then decide they’ll respectfully do their own homework on the candidates from there.
Count me in that camp.
Truth always wins out. My Bible may say that all of us are sinful, but it doesn’t say that all of us are stupid. When the true truth is presented honestly and with integrity over time, people eventually respond—which is why enemies of truth despise free speech and embrace censorship disguised as political correctness.
My Bible also says that human nature minus accountability will always run amok. When we hold up “heroes” such as Rush as if it’s from their lips to God’s ear, we are doing them no favor, and then shouldn’t be surprised when they eventually let us down. All of us have sinned, and therefore by the grace of God go I.
Without accountability, you either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Steve Deace's nationally-syndicated radio show airs coast-to-coast each weeknight from 9-Midnight eastern, including many of the Salem Radio Network's top conservative talk stations in markets like New York City, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Minneapolis. His radio program has been featured in major media such as Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Weekly Standard, and National Review among others. In 2013 he wrote the second-most shared column of the year for USA Today, defending "Duck Dynasty" and traditional American values. In addition to being a contributor for Town Hall.com, Deace is also a columnist for The Washington Times. He is also the author of the new book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again, which includes a foreword by David Limbaugh and is endorsed by a who's who of conservative leaders. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.