Rush Limbaugh has built a talk radio empire out of belittling, mocking, and attacking women, from bringing the term “feminazi” into popular usage to calling then-law student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” for wanting health insurers to cover birth control. So there was never a question of if Rush Limbaugh was going to begin belittling, mocking, and attacking Kamala Harris for having the audacity to accept the vice-presidential nomination—it was always a question of how.
Limbaugh is relying on a familiar old playbook he’s utilized for just about every woman he doesn’t like since his talk show became popular in the early 1990s, dismissing Harris as weak while also implying that she is threatening, before flat-out stating that she is promiscuous and therefore untrustworthy. In the past, Limbaugh has criticized Harris for not adhering to his definition of “African American” by having the temerity to be biracial: “Can somebody explain to me how Kamala Harris is an African American? Her father’s Jamaican and her mother is Indian. How does that equal African American?,” Limbaugh said in 2019, presumably to make some greater point about Harris and Obama using the title “African American” to claim victimhood status in order to gain political power. That same year he said that Republicans were “scared to death” by Harris’s stance on health care and warned his listeners that Harris was out to “punish those who are rich and who are powerful to make you think she’s looking out for you.”
This mixture of terror and dismissal at those Limbaugh and his ilk deem false “victims” is standard fare for his show. Limbaugh has long asserted the idea that “victimhood” is automatically conferred by the left to women and people of color, which gives them an unearned advantage in the “culture wars” between the left and right. By Limbaugh’s rhetoric, these victims and “feminazis” are both intellectually inferior but also threaten what Limbaugh and his listeners see as a “traditional” American way of life, one where white men’s voices are always loudest.
Now, Limbaugh seems to be pivoting to another of his old standbys in recent attacks on Harris—racialized accusations of prostitution and promiscuity. On his August 14 show, Limbaugh evoked a recent essay from the right-wing news outlet The American Spectator:
“It is no secret but public knowledge that Kamala Harris slept her way up into California political life by being a very public escort and mattress for California Democrat kingmaker Willie Brown,” Limbaugh quoted from the opinion piece on his show, adding “Now, some people read this story and said, ‘Mattress? Didn’t he mean mistress?’ No, I think, they meant mattress here.”
This isn’t the first time Limbaugh has referenced Harris’s nearly 30-year-old relationship with Brown, who had been separated from his wife for over a decade by the time the two briefly dated. Last year, he compared Harris to Stormy Daniels, the porn star paid $130,000 in hush money to keep quiet about her affair with a very-much-still-married Donald Trump.
And just as Limbaugh’s accusations that Sandra Fluke was asking to be “paid to have sex” by wanting health insurance to cover medicine prescribed by a doctor, Limbaugh’s accusations regarding Harris as a “mistress” who traded sex for political favors are baseless and absurd. But here we are, following all all-too-familiar pattern in which Limbaugh first ridicules a woman for being a fake “victim,” then actually victimizes her by insinuating that she is a prostitute using misinformation to cheers from his misogynistic right-wing audience, other outlets republish the tasteless comments and Limbaugh keeps his name in the headlines and further cements his reputation as a professional provocateur who “owns the libs” by getting under their skin with his lies. We’ve seen this cycle in perpetuity since 1989. At this point it’s as predictable as an episode of a network sitcom and would be every bit as boring if it weren’t for the fact that his audience is the same one who voted Donald Trump into office in part because of his talk-radio views on women. Rush Limbaugh’s predictably hateful rhetoric is the worst kind of political theater—as dangerous as it is mundane.