Rush Hudson Limbaugh III has died at age 70, a victim of stage IV lung cancer that was first detected in January 2020. The news may not come as a surprise, considering his diagnosis, but it undoubtedly leaves a profound impact on the media, for the conservative movement, and for the Republican Party. His legacy merits gratitude, remembrance and reflection, especially in these times.
Rush Limbaugh is a giant whose work was enormously influential in America. With his voice and impact, he essentially rescued the Amplitude Modulation (AM) radio format, which seemed doomed to irrelevance after the rise of Frequency Modulation (FM) stations, and also laid the foundation for the still small, but very important, conservative media ecosystem in the United States.
Beginning in 1988, when his radio program reached national distribution, millions of conservatives across the United States found in him an authentic analysis and a vision that articulated, reflected and projected their own that they had not previously encountered in the media. Listening to Limbaugh was like having a translation of politics and current affairs in your own language, analyzed under your own values, instead of the technocratic or leftist gobbledygook that even then was almost monopolistic.
Rush Limbaugh’s almost immediate, devastating and permanent success translated into more than 27 million weekly listeners, through as many as 600 stations across the United States, from those in big cities like New York to small-town radio stations.
Over the next few years, many other conservative voices came to radio stations, to the point of turning Amplitude Modulation talk radio into conservative-dominated territory. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, even Andrew Breitbart, all the great conservative communicators of the last two generations owe at least some of their success to the example and path blazed by Rush Limbaugh.
Those right-wing outlets, first on radio and then on television through Fox News, OANN, The Blaze, etc., have been a key part of the cohesion and momentum of the conservative political machine, as well as representing a counterweight, however small, to the progressives’ stranglehold on Hollywood and the industrialized press.
In Europe and Latin America, the left completely controls the world of ideas and communication; in the United States this is not the case, and this is thanks to the talent and success of Rush Limbaugh and those who followed him. That is why the left hates him and celebrates his death with more joy than they did Biden’s inauguration, because they feel that without him on the radio, the right will be weakened. Perhaps they are right.
Time for reflection
Just a year ago, on February 4, 2020, President Donald Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a recognition more than deserved and accompanied by the gratitude of millions of people, starting with Trump himself.
In the 2016 campaign the Donald Trump movement leveraged directly on the strength and prestige of Rush Limbaugh. While the conservative consensus was pouncing against Trump with that infamous issue of National Review, (which included not only top intellectuals, but also other heavyweight communicators, such as Michael Medved or Glenn Beck himself), Limbaugh endorsed Trump and we all know the result: Trump ended up sweeping the primaries and then winning the presidency of the United States.
That was the size of his influence and that will be the size of his absence. Today, no conservative communicator even comes close to the political weight that Rush Limbaugh had until a few hours ago and that led him to not only reflect, but transfigure the face of the American right. He leaves a gigantic space, whose reconfiguration will be key for the already complex adjustment of balances in the Republican Party, which we will follow closely.
For the time being, we are left with lessons and reflections on his legacy:
- Even a channel as secondary as AM radio can become a leading space if one knows how to take advantage of it.
- Right-wing communicators can be successful without the need to sell their ideology to the woke consensus.
- Beyond the hegemonic discourse of progressivism, there are millions of people who share conservative values, who are not satisfied with the communication of the major networks, and who are looking for voices that represent and understand them.
- The cultural battle is not lost; it still has to be fought primarily from the media, with authenticity and perseverance; with a direct voice and clear ideas, without fear of controversy, and without asking for mercy from the machinery of wokes.
Today he rests in peace, but the American right cannot afford that luxury. The fight for culture, for the media, and for the vision of America will be fiercer than ever. It must be fought and it can be won. Rush Limbaugh’s success, example and legacy should constantly remind us of this.