Steve Kornacki calls attention to the downsides of the Republican Party adopting Limbaugh as its mascot and revisits the history:
After being shredded on-air by Limbaugh over the tax hike he signed, George H.W. Bush invited him to the White House in June 1992, and made a show of carrying his bags to the Lincoln bedroom for him. When the GOP won the House in 1994, the party’s 73 freshmen members invited Limbaugh to their orientation dinner, where they honored him as a “majority maker.” He hosted Bob Dole on his show in 1996, beat the drums exhaustively for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and even admitted in the later years of W’s presidency that he’d been carrying water for congressional Republicans. And when he’s stepped over the line in recent years, Republicans have been painfully hesitant to take issue with him — and when they have, they’ve often ended up apologizing to him.
The results of this courtship have been degrading for all concerned: the party, the host, his listeners, and voters. Kornacki highlights Limbaugh as a liability for the GOP with swing voters, but it’s not as if the damage is only dealt in one direction. Before Limbaugh, conservative media made at least a token effort to keep Republicans’ feet to the fire. National Review at the time that Limbaugh became a household name was still somewhat interesting and independent under John O’Sullivan (and even endorsed Pat Buchanan in ’92). Once Rush became the face and voice of the right, though, any distinction between conservatism and Republicanism in the minds of millions of Americans was erased. The GOP, meanwhile, became even less interested in governing well or appealing to a wide electorate — being what was once called a national party — and focused on sounding more like Rush, with just as little substance. Now the party is embarrassed by his slut-talk, when it ought to be embarrassed about lusting after him in the first place. Limbaugh, for his part, long ago divorced conservatism to become the GOP establishment’s trophy.