I’m torn between crediting him for acknowledging a painful truth and criticizing him for having apparently thrown in the towel on what should be the entire point of his show, trying to convince people that smaller government is better. “Do you think the argument over big versus small government’s still going on, or do you think it’s over?” Rush wonders. “And if you think it’s over, who won?” He doesn’t answer the question but the answer is clear. Big government won, or else the Republican nominee for president wouldn’t have spent his evening yesterday proposing a new health care entitlement. More to the point, if big government hadn’t won, we wouldn’t have Trump as the Republican nominee in the first place. Rush is admitting a simple truth here in so many words: Most Republican voters don’t view through the world through a sharp ideological lens, especially when it comes to economic policy. If you doubt that, go find a poll measuring GOP support for protecting Medicare or raising the minimum wage. There’s no getting around this. Big government won, even on the right, and Trump is the ultimate proof.
What do you do, if you’re America’s most famous conservative talk radio host and you’re staring down the barrel of the fact that even your own party doesn’t much care about conservatism? You can rail against it and try to persuade them to reconsider small government — but you’ve spent 30 years doing that and it hasn’t worked, and if you double down now you’re going to alienate listeners, especially if it leads you to attack their new leader, Trump. You go that route and you’re gambling your status as an influential right-winger on it. The other move you can make is to go along to get along, noting in passing that you might personally prefer smaller government but most Americans don’t and, well, under the circumstances maybe we shouldn’t get so hung up on that anymore. The debate’s over. We lost. All that’s left now is to salvage what we can by supporting the candidate who’s a bit closer to conservatism than the other is. What this is, in other words, is a sort of apologia for the last 16 months of Rush’s show. If you’re annoyed that he insists on “analyzing” the election every day instead of calling Trump out sternly for his left-wing tendencies, well, that’s because you’re still under a delusion that conservatism is viable in America. It isn’t, so let’s deal with reality as it is. This is Rush waving the white flag. And he’s not necessarily wrong to do so. I just don’t know what the point of his show is now.
You can read the transcript of his whole monologue here, but let me highlight this part. If you want to know what most, not all, of conservative talk radio might sound like during a Trump presidency, this is a fine example. A new government entitlement? Well, people like that stuff. At least it’s better than Hillary’s plan. If Republican voters prefer this sort of thing to conservatism, why dwell on it? Most of conservative media will do nothing whatsoever to hold President Trump in check. Rush is telling you that, in his own way, up front.
RUSH: Look, bottom line: I am the last person on earth who wants any expansion of the government. But I am also the first person on earth to understand that we have a mess in child care because of government and because of the left. We have a mess. As I read through Ivanka’s piece, it seems to me that there’s more weight given to lowering taxes — tax deductions for child and elderly care. It seems like that’s every bit as important in her plan, Trump’s plan, as is the expansion of government.
There’s another way of looking at this, too, folks. In looking at Trump’s plan for child care and maternity leave and elderly care, conservatives can lament that it’s not the Ted Cruz plan. “Oh, my God! If this was Cruz, we’d have 10% flat tax and be done and there wouldn’t be any of this mess.” You can look at it that way as, “Oh, what if,” or you can look at the Trump plan and describe what it does and compare it to Hillary’s, assuming she presents one after recovering from what may be the mildest case of pneumonia in history.
That, it seems to me, is what the comparison needs to be. Other than an intellectual exercise, you can’t say, “Oh, what could have been! Oh, how bad! Oh, I told you!” I know there’s a whole bunch of I told you so’s out there, but I think politically… You wait. I think just for people that are not ideological — which is a hell of a lot of people in this country. I think they’re gonna respond so positively to this, and it’s gonna disappoint a lot of people. “Oh, my God, do people not even understand the whole concept of Big Government destroying the country?” They don’t, folks. They don’t look at it the way you and I do in that regard.
Is this what Rush wants to do with his time for the next four years? Reassuring his not-very-conservative listeners that Trump’s latest proposal may be a complete betrayal of what Rush himself believes but that, politically, it’s a “home run”?
In lieu of an exit question, I’m going to give you extra audio. As I say, there are two paths a conservative can take towards all of this, acquiescence or criticism. Listen to Rush, re-read the excerpt above (which isn’t included in the audio), then listen to the first few minutes of Mark Levin’s response to Trump’s maternity leave plan last night. Not everyone will end up covering for a Trump administration’s leftward lurches. But most will.