Republicans from across the political spectrum heaped praise on conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh following the news of his death Wednesday from complications of lung cancer.
Lead among them was former President Donald Trump, who called Limbaugh a “legend” and “fantastic” in an interview with Fox News.
“He would just talk for two hours, three hours, just talk and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Trump said. “And I once asked him, I said do you study for the show? And he said actually, ‘I study very hard. … That, a little bit, surprised me. But he was a fantastic man, a fantastic talent.”
The former president also took the occasion to spread the falsehood that he actually won the last election, saying that Limbaugh thought so, too.
“Well, Rush thought we won, and so do I, by the way,” Trump said, adding Limbaugh “was quite angry about it, quite angry.”
Limbaugh’s death marked the end of a three-decade career leading the conservative talk radio scene and serving as a defining voice on the right. Limbaugh, who Trump honored last year by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was long condemned as a bigot by critics for his lengthy history of sexist, homophobic and racist remarks about public figures like Chelsea Clinton and former President Barack Obama, among others.
To his fans, who called themselves “dittoheads” and numbered in the millions, Limbaugh provided an outlet for right-wing discourse that was not presented in mainstream media.
“While he was brash, at times controversial, and always opinionated, he spoke his mind as a voice for millions of Americans and approached each day with gusto,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement. “As he battled hearing loss and cancer late in life, he was sustained by the support of friends and family, his love of sports and rock ‘n’ roll, and his belief in God and country. Rush Limbaugh was an indomitable spirit with a big heart, and he will be missed.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Limbaugh a “generational media trailblazer.”
“He gave a voice to millions of conservative Americans whom the mainstream media had not even tried to represent,” McConnell said. “His impact is impossible to overstate. May he rest in peace.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Limbaugh “revolutionized American radio.”
“His voice guided the conservative movement for millions every day,” he wrote. “Rest In Peace, Rush.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called Limbaugh, a native Missourian, “a voice for the voiceless.”
“He changed talk radio, but more importantly, Rush changed the conversation to speak up for the forgotten, and challenge the establishment,” he said. “He lived the First Amendment and told hard truths that made the elite uncomfortable, but made sure working men and women had a seat at the table.”
There was little reaction from Democrats to news of Limbaugh’s death. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s “condolences go out to the family and friends of Rush Limbaugh.”
Progressive figures online also sought to ensure that Limbaugh’s history of incendiary remarks was not set aside in discussion of his death.
“Rush Limbaugh helped create today’s polarized America by normalizing racism, bigotry, misogyny and mockery,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action. “He was a demagogue who got rich off of hate speech, division, lies and toxicity. That is his legacy.”