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All Talk, Political Action: How Conservative Talk Radio Shaped The GOP

Rush Limbaugh in his studio during his radio show.
Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
Rush Limbaugh in his studio during his radio show.

Glenn Beck. Rush Limbaugh. Sean Hannity.

These rock stars of the right first found success as conservative talk radio hosts. They hit the airwaves with an anti-liberal agenda that wasn’t just political — it was profitable, too.

In a recent CNN interview, author and historian Brian Rosenwald argued that August 1, 1988 — the day Rush Limbaugh’s radio show went national — was the day Donald Trump’s successful bid for the presidency became possible.

Why was Rush Limbaugh’s program so formative? And was the momentum of his ideology really enough to elect Trump a decade and a half later?

Rosenwald chronicles the soundscape of 31 years of conservative talk radio in his forthcoming book, Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States. Here’s an excerpt:

[H]osts have aided Republicans greatly over the years. Although hosts were not typically elected officials, nor elected or appointed party dignitaries, they came to fulfill many traditional party leadership functions such as raising money, energizing voters, and framing events in a manner beneficial to the party and its politicians. Hosts’ platform also enabled them to assume unique party leadership functions. They could promote incendiary stories that the mainstream media didn’t consider newsworthy or didn’t feel comfortable addressing, ginning up the conservative base without offending moderate voters who weren’t paying attention. Hosts then channeled the ensuing conservative fury into political or legislative campaigns. Finally, hosts’ pummeling of the mainstream media handed Republicans a means of escaping negative stories or charges. Rather than grapple with the charges, politicians could simply decry media bias or, later, fake news.

We talk with Rosenwald and former conservative talk host Charlie Sykes about the radio roots that shaped today’s GOP.


Charlie Sykes, Former host, Midday with Charlie Sykes; author, “How the Right Lost Its Mind”; @SykesCharlie

Brian Rosenwald, Author, “Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States”; @brianros1

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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