Secession, sedition and real estate: Rush Limbaugh’s Florida legacy

Rush Limbaugh ponders secession, Dec. 9, 2020. (Image: YouTube)

Feb. 19, 2021 by David Silverberg

In his departure from this world, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio commentator who died Wednesday, Feb. 17 at age 70, bequeathed Florida two things: his $50 million mansion in Palm Beach (which presumably goes to his wife Kathryn) and the idea of Florida seceding from the union.

No doubt Kathryn will enjoy the 34,000-square foot, seven-bedroom, 12-bath palace with pool, putting green and private beach on two oceanfront acres.

Limbaugh’s Palm Beach home. (Photo: Zillow)

But for the state that he called home since 1996 his most recent legacy was his floating the idea of secession from a United States presided over by Joe Biden. It was an idea that found receptivity among numerous Florida Republicans. (See: “No need to secede: Welcome to Florumpia!”)

Limbaugh did not specifically call for Florida to secede: he raised the idea of secession in general on Dec. 9, 2020 when a caller to his radio show asked if conservatives could ever win over Democratic cities in northern states. Limbaugh interpreted this as asking whether they could ever be won over culturally, rather than electorally.

Limbaugh said he thought the big challenge was winning over the culture rather than the votes.

“I thought you were asking me something else when you said, ‘Can we win?’” said Limbaugh to the caller. “I thought you meant: ‘Can we win the culture, can we dominate the culture?’

“I actually think that we’re trending toward secession,” he said.

“I see more and more people asking what in the world do we have in common with the people who live in, say, New York? What is there that makes us believe that there is enough of us there to even have a chance at winning New York? Especially if you’re talking about votes.”

He continued: “I see a lot of bloggers—I can’t think of names right now—a lot of bloggers have written extensively about how distant and separated and how much more separated our culture is becoming politically and that it can’t go on this way. There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. 

“We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way. And I know that there’s a sizable and growing sentiment for people who believe that that is where we’re headed, whether we want to or not—whether we want to go there or not,” he said. “I myself haven’t made up my mind. I still haven’t given up the idea that we are the majority and that all we have to do is find a way to unite and win.”

Limbaugh said all this when a lawsuit by the state of Texas and 17 other states—including Florida—was before the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the election results in four key states. It was five days before the Electoral College was going to cast its votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory. Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud were threadbare, rejected by every court where they’d been heard and seemed unlikely to sway the Supreme Court but were nonetheless being loudly propagated by the president and his followers.

Limbaugh made many outrageous and extreme pronouncements during his 54-year radio career. While his constant and deliberately provocative statements had somewhat depleted the pool of available outrage, reference to secession brought more than the usual opposition and blowback.

“I think talk of secession is treason, Martha, I want to be very clear,” fellow conservative pundit Geraldo Rivera told Fox News host Martha MacCallum the next day. “That talk is reckless. It’s irresponsible.”

It was on the 11th that the Supreme Court issued its ruling dismissing the Texas lawsuit. References to secession spiked, especially in Texas where the state Republican chairman, Allen West, said “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” 

But that was also the day that Limbaugh backtracked. “I simply referenced what I have seen other people say about how we are incompatible, as currently divided, and that secession is something that people are speculating about,” Limbaugh said. “I am not advocating it, have not advocated, never have advocated it, and probably wouldn’t. That’s not something — 32 years — that’s not the way I’ve decided to go about handling disagreements with people on the left.”

Neither Texas nor Florida nor any other state seceded.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) tweeted: “I want to be clear: the Supreme Court is not the deep state. The case had no merit and was dispatched 9-0. There was no win here. Complaining and bellyaching is not a manly trait, it’s actually sad. Real men accept a loss with grace.”

On Jan. 6 Trump decided to vent his rage before his followers and incite them to attack the Capitol Building to overturn the election—and in the process destroy the legislative branch of government, kill its leaders and the Vice President. The effort failed.

Although he had retreated from secession, Limbaugh defended Donald Trump and his sedition: “There’s a lot of people calling for the end of violence,” he said the day after the insurrection. “A lot of conservatives, social media saying any violence, any aggression at all, is unacceptable—regardless of the circumstances. I’m glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord, didn’t feel that way.”

After Limbaugh

The Capitol attack and the subsequent impeachment of Donald Trump seem to have lanced the boil of hatred, prejudice and rage that was swelling with the encouragement of Trump and Limbaugh. The smashed glass and dead police and rioters appear to have brought home to Trumpers and dittoheads the dangers and reality of violence and insurrection—and that rhetoric has repercussions.

Then, Mother Nature and climate change drove home the point: after all the anti-government rhetoric about going it alone and secession, the deep freeze crushing Texas has made clear that the Lone Star State needs the rest of the nation to survive in a modern, technological world with running water and reliable electricity.

The secession talk was never as strong in Florida as it was in Texas. Now, with Limbaugh gone from the American airwaves and Donald Trump banned from Twitter, sanity seems to be returning. Insurrection has been defeated and secession is not a serious notion.

In Florida Limbaugh’s legacy seems as ephemeral as the airwaves on which he broadcast and his ideas as impermanent as a passing tropical shower. His more concrete legacy lies in his palatial mansion, which is only one of many in the Sunshine State’s pricey precincts.

There are many evaluations and analyses of Rush Limbaugh being written now. There’s no denying that he created the genre of talk radio. At a time when AM radio was moribund and seemed headed to obsolescence (it couldn’t broadcast music in stereo like FM radio), Limbaugh’s torrent of words revived it and gave it a new role. It caught on and made him rich, famous and influential, inspired numerous imitators and created a right-wing mediasphere. He presented and shaped a political point of view held by millions of Americans, no matter how delusional, hateful and prejudicial it may be.

Perhaps the best summation of Limbaugh appeared in a 1999 book written by humorist Al Franken, who went on to be elected Minnesota’s junior senator.

That book was called Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

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