NOVI, MI - MAY 3: Radio talk show host and conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh speaks at "An Evenining With Rush Limbaugh" event May 3, 2007 in Novi, Michigan. The event was sponsored by WJR radio station as part of their 85th birthday celebration festivities. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Rush Limbaugh
Heavy lies the crown of the unofficial standard bearer for the beleaguered Republican Party. But America’s most successful and controversial radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says he has no interest in being the face of the GOP.
“I am not the leader of the Republican party,” the 58-year-old Limbaugh told TODAY national correspondent Jamie Gangel in an exclusive interview airing Monday and Tuesday on the program. “Don’t wanna be the leader of the Republican party. It’s silly for them to keep talking about how I’m the leader of anything.”
Following the November elections that saw Democrat Barrack Obama sweep into the White House and a large Democratic majority take over both the U.S. House and Senate, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was asked who he believed represented the Republican Party. When Emanuel answered 'Rush Limbaugh,' it set forth a firestorm of controversy. It led national Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to knock Limbaugh, calling his conservative rhetoric “incendiary” and “ugly.”
Meanwhile, Limbaugh says he is laughing – all the way to the bank.
“It’s just creating more curiosity about me,” Limbaugh told Gangel in a preview from a taped interview that aired Friday on TODAY. “It’s 21 years, more popular than ever. Lord, thank you for my enemies.”
He launched his Rush Limbaugh Show nationally in 1988 just as the Reagan era was ending in Washington, and it’s gone on to become one of the biggest success stories in radio history. Often credited for saving AM radio, Limbaugh’s daily, three-hour show is the most listened to in America, and earned him the richest contract in radio history – some $400 million – when he re-upped in 2008 to continue broadcasting through 2016.
For the love of money
Limbaugh makes no bones about doing his radio show for the love of money, not necessarily for the love of politics or the spirit of debate.
”My audience, my ratings,” Limbaugh replied when asked by Gangel who he does his show for. “For ratings, I will admit it.
“Let me shock the world right here on NBC. I am doing my show for ratings. I want the largest audience I can get because that’s how I can charge the highest advertising rates. Which means what else do I want? Money.”
Limbaugh came under fire earlier this year when he declared he would like nothing better than to see Obama “fail” as president. But he added context to that remark in his TODAY interview, telling Gangel that “He’s my president, too – I want, you know, I want this country to succeed.”
Limbaugh on race and politics
Still, Limbaugh gave TODAY a taste of his conservative, I-told-you-so political bent that have made him appointment radio for his loyal legion of fans. In his TODAY interview, Limbaugh said his previous prediction that having a black president would actually heighten racial discord in American has been proven.
“I predicted to you it was going to exacerbate racial problems, and it has,” he said. “There’s a race industry in the country. They make money off it. They have fame and fortune off of it. And I predicted exactly what’s happened.
“Any criticism of President Obama is going to be said to be oriented in racism. And if you don’t like his health care bill, it’s racist. If you don’t like his cap and trade, it’s racist.”
Limbaugh admitted he was briefly moved in seeing an African-American elected president, “But I got over it pretty quickly.”
'Thank God for my addiction'
In his TODAY interview, Limbaugh also touched on his personal turmoil after becoming addicted to the prescription drugs oxycondone and hydrocondone, which led to a stint in rehab in 2003 and briefly led to criminal charges against him for so-called “doctor shopping.” Those charges were later dropped in exchange for paying for the investigation against him.
Of that troubled time, Limbaugh said, “I actually thank God for my addiction. I learned more about myself in rehab than I would have ever learned otherwise.”
Limbaugh, who has an estimated 20 million listeners spread out among the 600 radio stations that carry his program nationally, heads out of the radio booth for TV Jan. 10 when he will be a judge for the Miss America Contest at Las Vegas’s Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. The competition will be televised live on The Learning Channel.
Tune in to TODAY on Monday and Tuesday for more of Jamie Gangel's exclusive interview.