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Conservatives Weigh In On The Death Of Rush Limbaugh

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Think of Rush Limbaugh as the man who set the pattern for Donald J. Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Greetings, my friends, great to have you with us. It's Rush Limbaugh...

We need conservative leadership. We can take this country back.

People I disagree with is the order of the day, and I don't think I defeat them by compromising with them.

INSKEEP: The radio talk show host died of cancer yesterday at age 70. For decades, Limbaugh talked on the radio daily, filling the hours with constant references to feminists, Black people and his audience's resentments. He was so powerful in 1994 that Republicans who won control of Congress that year made him an honorary member of Congress. A quarter century later, as Donald Trump tried to overturn a democratic election, Limbaugh was on the air musing about secession from the union. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports on his influence.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Tributes to Rush Limbaugh have been flowing in from Republicans, including the person who remains the party's most prominent member.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Rush is irreplaceable, unique. He had an audience that was massive.

MCCAMMON: On Fox News, former President Donald Trump mourned the death of his friend and political ally. Without Limbaugh's decades of influence, there might never have been a President Trump. Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America says Limbaugh first helped propel Republicans to historic victories in Congress in the 1990s.

PENNY YOUNG NANCE: You had a group of people who were relatively apolitical, and suddenly this man hit the scene with a radio show that made public policy interesting and accessible.

MCCAMMON: Ralph Reed led the Christian Coalition during that era.

RALPH REED: He gave conservatives who may have felt that they were alone, maybe felt like Hollywood and Washington and New York and the financial community didn't understand them or appreciate them, he replaced that sense of alienation and loss with a sense of community and belonging.

MCCAMMON: Limbaugh had a well-documented history of racist and misogynistic remarks, including insults directed at former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, that earned Limbaugh many critics, including some conservatives.

CHARLIE SYKES: One of his contributions was playful bigotry.

MCCAMMON: Charlie Sykes is editor of the conservative website The Bulwark and a former radio talk show host. He says Limbaugh popularized a new genre of conservative media while eroding the boundaries of acceptable political discourse.

SYKES: That he normalized racism and misogyny and cruelty in a way that had long-term implications, so that by the time Donald Trump came around, you had a lot of Americans that kind of liked that style.

MCCAMMON: Sykes says Limbaugh pioneered behaviors that became associated with Trump, including personal attacks on political enemies and a tenuous relationship with the truth. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. He now hosts a talk show in Chicago that's branded as a rare anti-Trump conservative voice. Walsh blames Limbaugh for what he describes as rampant dishonesty in conservative media.

JOE WALSH: Rush Limbaugh began this. Rush Limbaugh's legacy, sadly, because he was immensely talented - but his legacy will be primarily lying to his audience.

MCCAMMON: Limbaugh's style was counterproductive for Republican efforts to broaden the party's base, says Derek McCoy, who works with conservative groups on outreach to people of color.

DEREK MCCOY: Folks like Rush are part of an old mindset that maybe just quite didn't get that the country is changing color and becoming extremely diverse.

MCCAMMON: Mccoy says Limbaugh's style turned off some conservatives who otherwise might have agreed with his politics. Still, Limbaugh was beloved by millions of listeners who turned on his radio show each day until he signed off for the last time.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.