Florida governor Ron DeSantis's plan to honour Rush Limbaugh raises hackles

  • Democratic leader angry at honour for deeply divisive figure
  • Flags to fly at half-staff for late hard-right talk radio host

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has said flags in the state will fly at half-staff for Rush Limbaugh, the hard-right talk radio host who died this week aged 70.

The decision met with opposition.

Gary Farmer, Democratic minority leader in the Florida Senate, said: “Any move to lower our flag in deference to a man who helped drive the hatred and inflame the prejudices against marginalised groups, people of colour, women and anyone who did not look like him or think like him is wrong and should be rescinded.

“This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be.”

But DeSantis, a controversial governor known to some as a “mini-Trump” and widely thought to have presidential ambitions, called Limbaugh a friend.

Appearing with James Golden, longtime producer to the leading “shock jock”, the governor told reporters: “When there’s things of this magnitude, once the date of interment for Rush is announced, we’re going to be lowering the flags to half staff.”

Limbaugh stoked fury among liberals for years. In 2004, the former Saturday Night Live cast member and Minnesota senator Al Franken wrote a bestselling book called Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.

Golden called him “a second-generation founding father”.

“The seeds that he planted,” he said, “are going to sprout in America and continue to grow for generations and generations to come, and America will be great again, not just because of Rush, [but] because of men like – and women – but men like this governor.”

Limbaugh lived in Florida. He died on Wednesday, a little more than a year after revealing he had lung cancer. Funeral plans were not immediately announced. He was widely mourned by conservatives.

But Limbaugh’s Guardian obituary said he “set the tone for the internet age of politics, calling women’s rights activists ‘feminazis’, referring to HIV/Aids as ‘Rock Hudson’s disease’ and claiming ‘environmentalist wackos’ were ‘a bunch of scientists organised around a political position’.

“He argued that the existence of gorillas disproved evolution, characterised both the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (2010) and the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand (2019) as ‘false flag’ operations organised by leftists, and accused the Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe of allowing the Charlottesville rioting in 2017 to worsen in order to boost his presidential ambitions.

“‘Have you ever noticed how composite sketches of criminals always look like [the black activist] Jesse Jackson?’ he asked.”

In February 2020, a day after Limbaugh announced his cancer diagnosis, Donald Trump gave him the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A month later, as the coronavirus pandemic began, Limbaugh told listeners it was merely a “common cold” that was being “weaponised” against Trump by the left.

He also said, in response to Pete Buttigieg’s strong showing in the Democratic primary, that “despite all the great wokeness and despite all the great ground that’s been covered … America’s still not ready to elect a ‘gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage’ president.”

Buttigieg responded: “America has moved on and we should have politics of belonging that welcomes everybody … I am saddened for what the Republican party has become if they embrace that kind of homophobic rhetoric.”

Buttigieg is now transportation secretary in the Biden administration.

In his statement on Friday, Farmer, the state senator, said DeSantis’s decision to lower flags for Limbaugh had “transformed this distinction into a partisan political tool to salute a man who served no other interests than his own and did his best to deeply divide a country along political fault lines”.

DeSantis has previously ordered flags to be at half-staff to honour law enforcement officers killed on duty, members of the US navy killed in a mass shooting in Pensacola and the liberal supreme court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others.


Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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