Trump makes first public comments since leaving office after death of Limbaugh

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh dies age 70, Trump reiterates baseless election claims

Former US president Donald Trump and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in November 2018. File photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty

Former US president Donald Trump and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in November 2018. File photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty

 

Former US president Donald Trump made his first public comments on Wednesday since leaving the White House, in a phone conversation with Fox News following the death of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh, a towering figure in the world of conservative radio with a weekly listenership of approximately 15 million, was awarded the presidential medal of freedom by Mr Trump at the state of the union address last year.

A controversial figure, he built his career on attacking liberal figures such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and espousing anti-immigration and anti-climate change views. He famously made derogatory comments about Chelsea Clinton when she was aged 12 and more recently dismissed Covid-19 as “no more than the common cold.” He died, aged 70, from lung cancer.

Speaking to Fox, Mr Trump reiterated his baseless claims that November’s presidential election was flawed. “We were like a third-world country on election night . . . You don’t know how angry this country is,” he said. “Rush felt we won and he was quite angry about it.” He made no reference to his impeachment trial, which ended with his acquittal for inciting the Capitol Hill riots of January 6th.

Rush Limbaugh reacts along with his wife Kathryn (second from left), former US second lady Karen Pence and former US first lady Melania Trump (right) as former US president Donald Trump announces the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington DC in February 2020. File photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA
Rush Limbaugh reacts along with his wife Kathryn (second from left), former US second lady Karen Pence and former US first lady Melania Trump (right) as former US president Donald Trump announces the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington DC in February 2020. File photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

The unscheduled phone-in by the former president came after Mr Trump launched a blistering attack on Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell who rebuked the former president in a speech in the senate on Saturday.

In a statement, Mr Trump called Mr McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and urged Senate Republicans to appoint a new leader. “If Republican senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” he said.

“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Senator Mitch McConnell at its helm.”

Move on

Mr Trump’s intervention comes at a time when the Republican Party has been riven by division, as the party adjusts to the post-Trump landscape. Seven of the senate’s 50 Republicans voted to convict their former party leader at last weekend’s Senate trial, but the vast majority voted to acquit, including Mr McConnell.

Speaking at a CNN town hall event on Tuesday night in Wisconsin, where he answered audience questions, US president Joe Biden indicated that he wanted the country to move on from Mr Trump, whose divisive style dominated American politics during his four years in office.

“For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people.”

But the prospect seems unlikely, given the support Mr Trump continues to attract from many rank-and-file Republican voters.

Former vice-president Mike Pence also broke his silence since his term ended on January 20th, paying tribute to Mr Limbaugh. “He was the anchor of conservatism, giving voice to a movement and fighting for the ideals that make America great.” Mr Pence has announced he is joining the conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, and plans to relocate to his home state of Indiana this summer.

Mr Biden, who was due to meet with union leaders at the White House on Thursday to discuss his coronavirus relief package, said at the CNN townhall that he would not be supporting a $50,000 student debt cancellation programme, a stance that was criticised by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren.

“An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans,” they said in a joint statement.