Opinion

Key '09 Limbaugh Speech Illustrates How He Became Bridge from Reagan to Trump

Rush Limbaugh launched his nationally syndicated radio program “The Rush Limbaugh Show” in August 1988, during the closing months of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Following Limbaugh’s passing on Wednesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich argued that the iconic conservative pundit really served as a bridge from the Reagan years to former President Donald Trump’s years in office.

In the late 80s, the United States was in the midst of bearing the full fruit of Reagan’s revolution that had taken the country from the malaise and self-doubts of the 70s to the restoration of national pride, as well as economic and military might.

Conservatism was ascendant.

Within months of Reagan leaving office, the Berlin Wall would fall and soon thereafter the Cold War would come to an end.

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Freedom had vanquished the communism/totalitarianism/socialism/’government knows how to best run your lives’ philosophies.

However, in his farewell address on Jan. 11, 1989, Reagan offered a warning in this moment of triumph, which Limbaugh appeared to take seriously.

“Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise,” the 40th president said.

“And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile.”

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Limbaugh sought to communicate what freedom means and why it should be protected to the tens of millions of listeners of his daily radio program over the past three decades.

He also ventured out to other mediums from time-to-time, including when he delivered an address to the attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28, 2009, a little over a month after former President Barack Obama took office.

Since both Fox News and C-Span were carrying the remarks, Limbaugh jokingly called it his “first address to the nation.”

Obama’s win the previous November was not a landslide, but was decisive: a 365 to 173 vote in the Electoral College.

The Democrats held a 257 to 178 majority in the House of Representatives, having gained 21 seats in the November 2008 election, as well as a 58 to 41 majority (with one undecided, which eventually went to the Democrats) in the Senate. It was an eight seat gain.

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If ever there was a time for conservatives to question their messaging and stances, February 2009 seemingly was a good one.

Rush would have none of it.

He fired up the crowd of thousands on-hand in the closing speech of the conference with a message very similar to Reagan’s remarks at CPAC in 1977: It is no time to abandon or even dial back conservatism, because its truths are timeless.

Limbaugh spent a significant portion of his hour-and-a-half address dispelling the notion that “Reaganism” is over.

“How do you get rid of Reagan from conservatism? The blueprint — the blueprint for landslide conservative victory is right there,” he said.

“Why in the hell do the smartest people in our room want to chuck it? I know why. I know exactly why. It’s because they’re embarrassed of some of the people who call themselves conservatives,” Limbaugh added.

“President Obama, and take your pick of any Democrat, love to say ‘we’ve tried it your way.’ Meaning Reaganism,” he said. “‘We’ve tried it your way. We tried it your way in the ’80s and it didn’t work.'”

Limbaugh corrected that falsehood.

“When Obama talks about past economies, he somehow always leaves out the recession of the ’80s as worse than this one,” he said. “Why does he leave it out? Because you know why he leaves it out, America? He leaves it out because we got out of that recession with tax cuts.”

The nation was in the midst of a recession, during which unemployment would peak at 10.8 percent, with a total of 12 million jobless Americans.

By way of comparison, the top unemployment rate reached in the Great Recession a decade ago was 10 percent.

The reason the former economic downturn escaped the moniker of the latter is because of Reagan’s leadership, which was guided by conservative principles.

CNN reported that the Obama administration oversaw the worst economic recovery since World War II, and now his former vice president, Joe Biden, is proposing the same thing: Increasing taxes and saddling businesses with Green New Deal-style regulations.

Reagan’s economy created over 18 million jobs during his two terms in office, while Obama’s created just 11.6 million, even though there were approximately 80 million more people living in the U.S.

It is no wonder that Limbaugh became such a strong supporter of Trump when he saw the former New York businessman implementing the same type of policies Reagan did in the 1980s, to the same effect.

The nation experienced its lowest unemployment rate in 60 years and Trump’s “peace through strength” policy was yielding similar dividends overseas, particularly in the Middle East.

Trump praised Limbaugh’s work in radio over the past three decades.

“There aren’t too many legends around, but he is a legend,” he told Fox News on Wednesday.

“He had tremendous insight,” the 45th president added. “He got it, he really got it.”

Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 2020.

“He is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet,” Trump said. “Thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country.”

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