Over the past several weeks, Rush Limbaugh has led a cacophonous chorus of conservative complaint against Republican presidential nominee-to-be John McCain. On Wednesday, the reigning king of talk radio kindly agreed to a phone interview with TIME, a member of another one of his frequent targets, the mainstream media. Afterward, Limbaugh went on the air and told his 13 million listeners about the conversation. "Yes, I am talking to the enemy," he said in his signature bellow (partly in jest, or so it sounded). "Just call me McCain today ... I'm reaching across the aisle here and I'm talking to the enemy, that's right. But I'm not going to agree with them, like McCain does." Here is a transcript of the interview:
So I understand from listening to your show yesterday that your attacks against John McCain are part of a secret plan. You are making yourself McCain's biggest helper by attacking him.
Well, it's not a secret plan. Look, I've been fascinated, honestly, Jay, with the attention paid to me by people who really have not undertaken to understand how I succeed, how I define my success. I don't define my success by who wins elections, because politicians are going to come and go, and I'm going to be around as long as I choose to be. It just amazes me. So I thought I'd have some fun with this, since there seems to be a narrative and a template in a lot of the media about talk radio and me in particular. I thought I'd throw a curveball out there yesterday. And there is some truth to it, by the way. I do think if I really came out fervently and passionately endorsed McCain, some of the independents and Democrats who were thinking about voting for him might be dissuaded by it simply because they have such a virulent dislike for me. But I threw it out just to have fun with all this, which is my primary objective every day.
Is there anything McCain can do to convince you he's acceptable?
I don't think he should even try. He's got to be who he is. I don't think he needs to reach out. His job is not to be acceptable to a single person. I'm not sitting here demanding that. I don't have that kind of sense of power or existence. That's one of the things that sort of amuses me about all this. You know, he had Bob Dole send that letter. And Phil Gramm has called. Phil Gramm was in Davos. But Phil just [said], "Let me tell you why I'm for McCain." Pure and simple. He didn't persuade or arm-twist. I don't think Senator McCain ought to do anything but be who he is and let the chips fall. Because that's his strength. And if he starts doing anything that appears to be pandering to people, then he's going to lose, I think some I don't know, respect but some people are going to question it. Because he's never pandered. At least his image is that he's never pandered. He's a maverick. He's out there on his own and he's going to ride the trail wherever it takes him, in the direction he wants to go. I wouldn't expect it.
You know, when it comes down to a general election looks like it's going to be [Barack] Obama vs. McCain there are any number of ways of playing this, and one of them, I don't necessarily have to tout McCain, but I certainly will be critical of Obama. Once we get down to the general, you start examining what this guy's policies are. Right now [Obama is] saying nothing better than anybody has ever said it. At least in my lifetime. It's going to have to get specific at some point.
I said this on the radio yesterday. I really do take all this seriously in terms of the future of the country and where we're headed. And liberalism to me, based on its history, portends disastrous things for the future of the country. I think liberals in a political sense need to be defeated, not accommodated, not reached across the aisle and hugged, not walked across the aisle to accommodate them and bring them in. And I certainly don't want the Republican Party to be redefined by becoming victorious on the basis of a bunch of liberal Democrats being attracted to the party as liberal Democrats. I'd love to have them if they are converted to our side. But we're missing genuine conservative leadership, so that's not going to happen.
I'll have plenty to talk about. When [George] Bush 41 was elected in '88, people said, "Well, that's it for Limbaugh; he's going to have nothing to say." Well, wrong! The liberals were out there starting with global warming. The spotted owl was going nuts back then. There are always going to be liberals to rail against no matter who's in the White House.
You'll be critical of the Democratic nominee. Will you continue to hold McCain's feet to the fire as this goes forward?
Well, probably. But it's not personal. I firmly believe that conservatism genuinely articulated, passionately articulated wins in national elections most every time it's tried. I tell people, "Go back to the '80s." Ronald Reagan did not have talk radio or an alternative media supporting him. What was he down in the House of Representatives the Democrat margin then was what, 130 seats or something? And [the Republicans] were led by a guy named Bob Michel, whose objective every day was to make sure he was invited to play golf with Democratic leaders. And [Reagan] didn't have the Senate for most of his eight [years]. Look what he did. He got his tax cuts through a number of things. It can be done. We're dealing, I think, with [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid, two of the most incompetent, ineffective Democratic leaders in my lifetime. Now the idea that we conservatives cannot go beat these people without having some of them join us as who they are it offends the hell out of me. Conservatism, if you look at Reagan, that kind of leadership, it can happen. And so, yeah, I would love to try to be a force, of seeing to it that that's part of a national Republican campaign absolutely.