As Mr. Trump would later, Mr. Limbaugh had Mrs. Clinton, and the conservative public’s insatiable appetite for attacks on her, partly to thank for his success. And like Mr. Trump, Mr. Limbaugh then further wielded his huge platform to threaten and denigrate smart, ambitious, politically involved women.
In 1992, Mr. Limbaugh introduced the term “feminazi,” a pejorative he assigned women who spoke out for their own rights generally, and for abortion rights specifically. It was his preferred term, he said, for “women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day Holocaust: abortion.”
Girls were not spared his ire. Mr. Limbaugh told viewers of his television show in 1993: “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” And he held up a photograph of Chelsea Clinton, who at the time was just 13 years old. Two decades later, as he established a steady patter of racist and misogynistic hate aimed at Barack and Michelle Obama, Mr. Limbaugh took to calling Mrs. Obama “Moochelle,” reinforcing the idea that women are only as valuable as their looks — a rule that he did not seem to apply to men.
That Mr. Limbaugh’s fortunes grew with this kind of extreme and schlocky rhetoric, could not have been lost on conservative politicians. The victories of the civil rights and feminist movements in the 1960s and ’70s had forced a great reorganization in American politics, with the Republican Party seizing opportunities for growth among whites angry about progress toward racial equality, and among men who resented women’s changing roles and growing power in the workplace, society and the family.
Mr. Limbaugh was the ur-character of this new kind of conservative Republican: one who spoke out loudly for traditional values — which in this case meant male authority over women — as well as the cultural, political and economic dominance of whites. But unlike many Republican politicians, he eschewed dog whistles and code words in favor of unvarnished bigotry. His talk radio show soon became the most popular in America, riding a wave of white male resentment as well as helping to stoke it.
Aware of his reach, Republican politicians began competing for his listeners’ votes. That meant firmly solidifying themselves as opponents of women’s rights, privacy and progress.
As much as moderate Republicans may have publicly, at least occasionally, wrung their hands over Mr. Limbaugh’s boorishness, they were happy to support his politics. Perhaps the best case study of Mr. Limbaugh’s grotesque efforts happened in 2012, after Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, testified before Congress to urge mandatory coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act, which many congressional Republicans opposed.