Trying to decide who's to blame for the rise of Donald Trump is all the rage in the Acela Corridor. At The Washington Post, Michael Gersonblames Rush Limbaugh:
If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, one of the main reasons will be that many in the conservative movement found him acceptable. And one of the main reasons that many conservatives are finding Trump acceptable is that the most influential political talk radio host in history, Rush Limbaugh, has provided his blessing.
... Limbaugh has ... consistently defended Trump as a legitimate choice for those whose dominating factor is the humiliation of “the establishment.”
... The upside, in this view, is not just taking the political fight to liberalism; it is also overturning a failed and corrupt Republican political order.
There are a couple of points to be made here. First, Gerson assumes that GOP voters will do whatever Limbaugh tells them to do. I think he has these voters confused with craven Republican politicians and officials. (Or is that redundant?)
Rank-and-file Republicans do get a lot of their ideas from Limbaugh and other superstars of the right-wing media. But the right-wing media world includes Fox News, a lot of websites, and many, many talkers, and in that world there's a tremendous amount of resistance to Trump. (Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, for instance, despise Trump.) And as Gerson notes, Limbaugh isn't actually endorsing Trump, and seems to prefer Ted Cruz. So why hasn't Cruz swamped Trump in the primaries?
What's sticking in Gerson's craw is Limbaugh's opinion of Gerson's precious establishment. Limbaugh thinks the establishment isn't trying hard enough to advance conservatism. In responding to that charge, Gerson unwittingly reminds us how responsible the establishment is for the rise of Trump:
Leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are conservative by any serious measure. But they are forced to live within the constraints of our constitutional system. They don’t have the option of inhabiting a fantasy world where entitlements such as Obamacare can be undone by the legislature alone. Such utopianism is fundamentally at odds with constitutionalism.
Congressional Republicans don't live in a fantasy world where you can just get rid of Obamacare legislatively? Then why have they voted to repeal the health care law, what -- fifty times? Sixty times?
And many Republicans, in Washington and elsewhere, do not view civility, inclusion and tolerance as forms of weakness or compromise. In fact, they view casual misogyny, racial stereotyping and religious bigotry as moral failings, in their children and in their leaders. And they oppose -- as a matter of faith or philosophy -- any form of populism that has exclusion, cruelty or dehumanization at its core.
So I just imagined that in the 2010 midterms the GOP was running against the "Ground Zero mosque"? I just hallucinated a Republican Party in which even mainstream candidates flirted, if not necessarily with birtherism, then with accusations that President Obama is an America-hating anti-colonialist whose loyalties lie overseas? The sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, the racist attacks on Black Lives Matter, the immigration-bashing of Steve King -- an Iowa power broker whom every Republican presidential aspirant courts -- that was all a figment of my imagination?
Sorry, Michael -- you guys laid the groundwork for Trump. Don't try to push Trump's rise off onto Limbaugh.
(Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog