Talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh delighted at the expansive twists and turns of the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, cheering it all the way to impeachment, despite polls suggesting Americans wanted Congress to censure the president and move on. He met Barack Obama’s election by declaring that he wanted him to fail, then allied with men who tried to discredit Obama by falsely stating he was born abroad.
But now that the nation’s leading birther, Donald Trump, is in the White House, Limbaugh purports to be outraged by what he calls efforts to undermine and unseat a duly elected president.
In recent segments on his show, he has claimed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “actually a cover-up for all of the things the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee engaged in to try to taint the election,” and additionally, that “if these people don’t like the way you voted, they’re gonna just throw it out. They’re gonna do whatever they can to undermine it and sabotage it, ’cause they don’t like the result.”
Trump may be innocent of colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election. And after all the facts are known, the special counsel’s team may seem as if it was overzealous in pursuing its mandate, or abusive in one or more aspects of its conduct. I’d happily support sweeping reforms to the FBI if that turns out to be the case. I’d support them regardless, seeing many flaws in the status quo of law enforcement in America and caring even about cases that don’t affect powerful Republicans.
But even if any of those as yet unproven possibilities turns out to be true, it will remain the case that the special counsel was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—a man that Trump himself nominated to his position. Ninety-four senators voted to confirm his appointment as deputy attorney general. Numerous GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have declared that he ought to be allowed to conduct his investigation. And the public agrees.
A Washington Post survey asked: “A special counsel at the U.S. Justice Department, Robert Mueller, has been investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian govt to influence the 2016 election. Do you support or oppose Mueller investigating this issue?” Sixty-nine percent said they supported the probe as of last month.
The same Post survey asked: “Do you support or oppose Mueller investigating Trump’s business activities?” And 64 percent of Americans said that they supported that.
Fox News found something similar: “About two-thirds, 67 percent in the latest Fox News poll, say it is at least somewhat important the investigation continues, and 56 percent think it’s likely that Mueller’s probe will find Donald Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses.”
A Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll got like results.
But you’d never know any of that from the Rush Limbaugh Show, which portrays the Mueller investigation as an outrageous, undemocratic usurpation of the people’s will.
That isn’t an exaggeration.
This is nowhere better illustrated than a May 3, 2018, segment that Rush Limbaugh’s web team titled, “Outraged Americans: ‘Let’s March on Washington.’” Here’s an excerpt from the first call:
Rush: Rosemary in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I’m glad you called. How are you?
Caller: Hi. Why don’t the millions of us who voted for President Trump march to Washington in the biggest protest ever to drive a stake through that vampire Mueller and all his bloodsucking bats and then also march on the mainstream press in New York, millions of us?
Rush: I don’t know. Why don’t you?
Caller: Well, I think it’s a good idea, don’t you?
Rush: I’d love to see it.
Caller: I’d love to see, too.
Rush: I gotta be very careful here. I gotta be very careful not to be seen organizing or suggesting such a thing. Otherwise, if it happens, it will not appear organic. We don’t want ’em to say, “Yeah, this is all happening ’cause Limbaugh’s got his robots doing what he told them.” We don’t want them to say that, so—
Caller: No, I don’t think they could accuse you of that. I think lots of us have the idea that we’d like to do that ’cause, I mean, I really love Trump. He’s saving America.
Rush: You know, you do raise a broader question, and that is as people learn what has been learned since last night with Caputo, Michael Caputo, and essentially confirming what I thought was going on with this thing from the beginning, I wonder how mad Trump voters and others are out there.
Caller: I think that we’re all furious. I mean, everybody I know is, of the conservatives. I mean, they despise Mueller. And I certainly do. I think he’s an evil man. I believe in a hell, and I think that’s where he’s gonna wind up going. That’s one thing about it, he’s gonna spend eternity there being tortured like what he’s doing to President Trump.
Rush: Well, that may well be, but if that happens, nobody will ever know it so you will not have the satisfaction of ever knowing that.
Caller: You’re probably right about that, but it’s nice thinking about it.
There’s a lot to be distracted by in that call.
It takes a staggering corruption of Christianity to cite it while taking satisfaction in anyone’s eternal damnation and torture. And here the ostensibly damned isn’t even a terrorist or murderer or rapist—it’s a retired FBI official investigating a man who personifies lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy, and pride (though not sloth, to his credit).
But don’t be distracted by any of that, or the fact that the next caller began, “God bless that caller before me, because you know what, I’m mad,” as the striking thing here is Limbaugh’s delight in the idea of his political faction gathering en masse and marching to Washington, D.C., “to drive a stake through that vampire Mueller,” then heading to New York City to give the mainstream media the same treatment.
“I think as this has gone on more and more people are starting to get literally outraged over all of this,” Limbaugh said. “I mean, at its most elementary, this is the epitome of unfairness. And if Americans are devoted to anything, it’s to fairness.” Nevermind that nearly seven in 10 support the investigation.
Before hanging up that second caller says:
In several of shows you’ve said, ‘How do we stop this, who’s gonna stop this?’ And I think we do. We, the people. We stop it. And I agree with her. We need to march on Washington, D.C., like they have never seen before.
None of this is any surprise to longtime listeners of Limbaugh, who realized that neither he nor most of his listeners consistently believe in conservative principles or democratic legitimacy so much as the proposition that whatever it is that their faction happens to think at a given time is what’s good and true and right, while whatever their opponents think is an illegitimate betrayal of America.
Any sentient observer should be able to see what so many of them don’t: that if Obama had faked a doctor’s note declaring himself to be in excellent health, repeatedly changed his story about a hush-money payment to a porn actress on the eve of an election, had multiple close associates with ties to the Russian government, and fired the head of the FBI, then declared that he did so because of an investigation that could implicate him in Russian crimes, Limbaugh would be aggressively calling for investigations until the end of time.
His listeners would be declaring that Obama was going to hell.
Many words might accurately characterize the sort of commentator who responds to an FBI investigation he believes to be unfair—but that is lawfully constituted, overseen by Congress, and embraced by a huge popular majority—by indulging fantasies about his minority faction marching on D.C. to oust its leader with mob pressure.
Absent among those words is “conservative.”