Leon Wolf titles his post on this, “Rush Limbaugh Admits he is Unable to Do His Job when it Comes to Trump.” I’m more sympathetic. There’s no talking someone out of something they really want to believe, and the more they invest psychologically in believing it, the more pointless it is to try. Both sides of the Lewandowski/Fields incident are all-in and then some. So why would Rush, who’s spent months walking a tightrope between the pro-Trump populists in his audience and the Cruz-supporting true conservatives, risk mass defections from one side or the other by taking a position? You don’t really think he’s spent all this time trying to keep his balance only to dive off headfirst now, do you?
In fact, huddle up here, fellow Cruz fans, and tell me something: Can we give him a pass to climb down? Can we not do this poor guy a favor, as a reward for decades of meritorious service to grassroots conservatism, by letting him embrace Trumpmania fully and freely for the duration of the campaign? Think of it as a gold watch. Every day of Rush’s show now feels like an exercise in strained, compulsory quasi-neutrality, which amounts in practice to him defending nearly everything Trump says and does but mixing in some praise for Cruz here and there just to make sure he’s got his footing on the tightrope.
In case you’re unclear on how he views the Lewandowski incident, he violated his own self-imposed “gag order” a few times today to suggest obliquely but clearly enough (remember, quasi-neutrality must be maintained) that it’s much ado about nothing and merely a pretext for Trump’s enemies in the establishment and the media to try to destroy his campaign. This is in an alternate reality, I guess, where the media hasn’t given Trump literally $2 billion worth of free advertising in covering him incessantly and where Trump hasn’t already weathered about 8,000 mini-crises potentially more damaging than what happened with Lewandowski:
I don’t even know Lewandowski. What I know is, everybody apparently hates the guy. What I know is, everybody wants to try to destroy the Trump campaign that is not part of the Trump campaign. I know that includes many people in the media. They will take the occasion of any event that pops up to try to destroy and bring down the Trump campaign, which is politics, and it’s fine. But I have determined here that because tensions are so tight, everybody is wound up to such a feverish pitch here, that no matter what I say it is misunderstood and is not helpful…
I’ll lift my gag on an opinion to tell you one thing here. If you want to understand all of this anger on all sides of this in this campaign, it really isn’t any more complicated than people who thought they were gonna win big finding themselves losing and not knowing how to deal with it, and then a little bit of disappointment or anger, or maybe even panic. The losing is unexpected.
How they’re losing and to whom just befuddles them, and so the problem is expectations. There was a confident expectation that this was the year for a certain kind of candidate, a certain kind of victory — once and for all, after all of these years — and then something came along to upset that. And what came along to upset that was something that nobody likes or understands, and so lashing out against it is taking place. If you want to try to translate that, have at it. That’s far as I’m gonna go.
Wouldn’t it be better and make for a more interesting show if he felt free to say what he meant, without the need for “translation”? I honestly can’t tell if he’s referring here to establishmentarians taking revenge on Trump for thwarting their master plan to nominate Jeb Bush or grassroots conservatives taking revenge on Trump for thwarting their master plan to finally nominate a true con if Ted Cruz. If Cruz fans just gave him a pass to support Trump, he could say what he meant and we wouldn’t need to wonder. How’s about it? The next time Trump accuses Fields of being some sort of nut who pressed charges “because I think she likes it” or Lewandowski blithely insists that the Trump campaign doesn’t attack its opponents(!!), I’d rather hear the broadcasting genius behind the golden microphone defend it full-throatedly than feel forced to stick to “so here’s what Trump and Lewandowski” said today bogus neutrality. Free Rush!
In fact, the Lewandowski incident is a perfect illustration of the point of this recent NYT piece about the difficulty conservative talk radio stars have had navigating the campaign now that their audiences are split between Trump and Cruz. Rush, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin are aligned on nearly every issue under normal circumstances, but on Lewandowski being charged with battery they’ve gone three separate ways. Rush officially no longer has any comment; Levin, who’s endorsed Cruz, savaged Lewandowski on his show last night per the second clip below; and Hannity insists that he’s watched the surveillance video a hundred times and can’t see that Lewandowski did anything wrong. The GOP’s on its way to splintering. Are conservative media audiences going to splinter too?