Rush Limbaugh has faced criticism before. But the backlash at the activist feels new. At least eleven advertisers have stopped hawking their wares on his program. Two radio stations have dropped the show entirely. Republican leaders have (sorta) denounced him. Limbaugh has apologized and that didn’t stop the backlash.
Nevertheless, to assume that Limbaugh will face the same fate as, say, Don Imus, is a little far-fetched.
But a backlash that might be a career-breaker for some commentators seemed unlikely to dent Limbaugh’s considerable stature among his 15 million weekly listeners and conservative leaders.
The criticism delivered by most Republican officeholders was muted. One political action committee stepped up to buy even more advertising on his program. All of which suggested that “The Rush Limbaugh Show” might be too big to fail [...]
Limbaugh may have been enduring a bigger blowback than any in memory — bigger than when he rooted for the newly inaugurated Obama to fail, or when he called Hillary Rodham Clinton “sex-cretary of state.” But to his listeners, anger from mainstream news outlets and Democratic politicians serves as proof positive that Limbaugh is on the right track. And even after his apology Monday, Limbaugh quickly turned to suggest it was “leftists” who had instigated the ugly tone on the contraception debate.
To do permanent harm to the talk radio host, the activists aligning against him — largely via social media — would have to expand and sustain their advertiser boycott for months, experts said. The analysts don’t expect that to happen, though they acknowledged that, even for the reliably outrageous Limbaugh, targeting a virtually unknown private citizen with sexually charged vitriol was problematic new territory.
If there’s any precedent here, it would be Glenn Beck, who Color of Change stripped of over 80 of his sponsors after he called President Obama a racist. That sustained campaign lasted well over a year, and culminated when Fox News decided not to bring Beck back. But that was anchored by one progressive organization. So far, the Limbaugh effort is happening on an ad hoc basis, which makes it prone to drift.
And anyway, they’re still consecrating Limbaugh in places like the Hall of Famous Missourians. So he’s not quite as toxic as Beck yet.
I do think there’s a path to drive Limbaugh off radio. He’s the de facto leader of the Republican Party, but so was Beck at the time. However, this will take months if not years, and a dedicated effort. What the backlash to Limbaugh’s “slut” comments does show is a new assertiveness from many outraged activists to make a meaningful difference, and I think that’s an excellent development.