Reprinted from Media Matters
"It's almost like you're going so far out of your way and almost doing back flips and cartwheels to defend Trump. It's just a turn-off at this point." [Caller to Rush Limbaugh, March 31]
Conservative media's "Trumpkins"-fueled civil war has spared few victims. Just ask Rush Limbaugh, who continues to take on fire as he stumbles his way through the right-wing media's divisive Primary Season from Hell.
Routinely condemned for not calling out what Republican critics see as Donald Trump's brand of faux conservatism, Limbaugh continues to fish around for a middle ground. The host seems anxious to defend Trump from attacks, but also wary of offending his legion of listeners, who see the front-runner as a fraud, and see Limbaugh as a hypocrite for playing nice with him.
Torn between the allure of what's popular (Trump) and abandoning everything Limbaugh's said about how he defines conservatism over the last 30 years, Limbaugh now often finds himself in no-man's land.
"Every day of Rush's show now feels like an exercise in strained, compulsory quasi-neutrality, which amounts in practice to him defending nearly everything Trump says and does but mixing in some praise for Cruz here and there just to make sure he's got his footing on the tightrope," wrote the Hot Air blogger known as Allahpundit.
In other words, Limbaugh's playing defense, a mode that most talk radio hosts despise.
Have there been previous primary squabbles, and has Limbaugh been at odds with his famously like-minded listeners in the past? Of course. But as a rule, the conservative media world over the years hasn't been known as the home of freewheeling and raucous partisan debate within the GOP, pitting Republicans against Republicans. Instead, it's been known to be an amazingly disciplined echo chamber that directs its fire outward toward Enemy No. 1: Democrats.
The current primary battle is the most bitter in recent memory. It's also threatening to implode the Republican Party -- and to a degree, the entire conservative movement as we know it -- as Trump angles to secure the party's nomination while breaking free from core beliefs that have been considered sacrosanct for generations by Limbaugh's listeners.