Our forthcoming book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties.
For decades, Limbaugh, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday at age 70, was at the center of it all. It is hard to overstate the role that the syndicated talk-radio host played in the transformation of the character and culture of the conservative movement. Every Republican over a certain age has a story about how they were inspired or influenced by him.
But as time went on, Limbaugh went in another direction. If Limbaugh was once a thought leader among conservatives, he ended his career very much as a follower, scrambling to keep up with his people. As his ratings and ad revenue faded, he found himself in competition with younger, crazier outlets and he spent less and less time on actual substance, leaning instead into outrage and grievance.
The fact is that Limbaugh was fundamentally uninterested in ideas, and by the time he had helped Trump’s improbable rise to the presidency, the host was essentially done with conservatism as a set of principles. “I never once talked about conservatism” during the presidential campaign, Limbaugh told his listeners after Trump’s election, “because that isn’t what this is about.”
For years, he had touted what he called his “Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.” But in the era of Trump, he announced that he had changed it to the “Institute for Advanced Anti-Leftist Studies.”