Rush Limbaugh Exposed?

screenshot: The Rush Limbaugh Show

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I keep struggling to come up with the right metaphor to describe the call Rush Limbaugh took from “Rick from Los Angeles” yesterday. (If you haven’t heard the above segment, you should.) On one hand, it reminded me of Jack Nicholson’s You’re damn right I ordered the code red! moment in A Few Good Men. In both cases, someone else—an attorney in the movie and a talk radio caller in the Rush situation—prompted a rare moment of honesty, which turned out to be a personal indictment.

But that’s not quite right either. Nicholson’s character (Colonel Jessup) was angry at the line of questioning. Limbaugh might’ve been flummoxed by the questioning, but he wasn’t angry.

And there’s another reason the Nicholson analogy fails. As Conor Friedersdorf’s title suggests, Limbaugh’s comments demonstrate that he had misled his own audience. Conversely, Col. Jessup was willing to bullshit the civilians and a Navy lawyer, but that was, after all, for their own good. Jessup’s sense of loyalty was to his men and his country. He felt the ends justified the means.

In a sense, Limbaugh was exposed as “the man behind the curtain” from The Wizard of Oz, not the man who ordered the “code red.”

Whatever the appropriate analogy, I don’t think this will constitute the “end” of Rush Limbaugh—there won’t be any “scene” where he is led out of the courthouse in handcuffs—but I do think this moment might matter. Of course, not everyone agrees. On Twitter, I’ve been debating some smart political observers who have differing opinions on what this all means:

For those who think that nothing matters, I would point to July 19, 2016, the day Roger Ailes’ ouster became evident—and the day Donald Trump became the official Republican nominee for president.

Here’s how it works: For a long time, nothing seems to change. But what we don’t notice is accretion. Eventually, there’s a tipping point. Neither of these events were predictable. Both seemed highly unlikely a year ago.

Rush Limbaugh’s response to “Rick from Los Angeles” on August 29 might end up on the list of important dates that (at best) leads to the demise of the Con$servative Entertainment Complex, and (at worst) leads to the end of the conservative movement as we know it.

For me, this is bittersweet. As I wrote in my book, I grew up a fan of Limbaugh. But a year ago, I basically begged him to stand up to Trump, arguing that he was abdicating his responsibilities if he failed to do so. If this keeps up, there might not be too many Rush babies in the future.

Matt K. Lewis