The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has a substantial following among grass-roots Republicans, came to the defense of Donald J. Trump on Monday as prominent leaders in the party stepped up their criticism of Mr. Trump's pointed comments about Senator John McCain. Such a defense is not entirely surprising, since Mr. Limbaugh's distaste for the Republican establishment is deep and well documented. But the supportive words from Mr. Limbaugh may provide Mr. Trump with the inoculation he needs to survive the scorn of the party's elders long enough to be included in the presidential debates.
The conventional wisdom came together with lightning speed: Donald Trump went too far, even for Republicans, when he went after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Saturday. The backlash from many GOP candidates and even the Republican National Committee was proof, the argument went, that Trump's days as a leading presidential candidate were numbered.
There's just no way to recover from this one, the conventional wisdom said. Trump would soon find himself without a friend in his party.
As the New York Times reports this afternoon, these assumptions are already looking pretty shaky.
"Trump can survive this, Trump is surviving this," Limbaugh told his audience, celebrating the fact that Trump, instead of backing down and apologizing, instead told "everybody to go to hell."
Remember, Limbaugh has some experience of his own in the area of denouncing U.S. military servicemen and women: in 2007, the host said any American soldier who disagreed with him on the war in Iraq is a "phony soldier." Democrats complained bitterly at the time about Limbaugh's shot at U.S. troops, but Republicans didn't much care and Limbaugh's status as a leading GOP voice was unaffected.
Regardless, Limbaugh's supportive comments towards Trump are a reminder that many of the initial assumptions may turn out to be wrong. Indeed, the right-wing radio host wasn't the only figure in conservative media coming to Trump's defense today.
Media Matters noted today that on Fox News today, Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, Roger Stone, and Harris Faulkner all offered at least some support and/or defense for Trump's controversial remarks.
As we talked about this morning, this shouldn't come as too big a shock. McCain, his conservative voting record notwithstanding, is deeply unpopular in far-right circles. For that matter, the more the Republican Party establishment coalesces around a position, the more many GOP activists are inclined to push back in a different direction.
Remember, after Trump wrapped up his appearance in Iowa on Saturday, he received a standing ovation -- right after his ugly criticism of McCain. Much of the media and the Republican establishment could hardly believe Trump went so far, but the conservative activists in attendance clearly didn't mind what they heard.