If Rush Limbaugh thrives on criticism, this is one of his best weeks in months. First, President Barack Obama told Congressional Republicans that they’d have to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh for any sort of compromise to be reached. Then, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee launched an online petition condemning Rush for his now famous “I hope he fails” comments. (The DCCC, by the way, is an official Democratic party organization—Nancy Pelosi personally appoints the chairman of that committee). Finally, Republican Representative Phil Garney suggested that Limbaugh wasn’t aware of the burdens of leadership that people like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell labor under. (Actually, a somewhat fair point, except that it isn’t as if the GOP leadership has produced any results).
It’s hard to imagine what those Democrats who attacked Limbaugh were thinking. Obama seemed to equate “listening to Limbaugh” with “refusal to compromise,” and almost certainly didn’t mean his words to be the personal attack on Rush they turned out to be. The DCCC seems to think that Limbaugh’s “fail” comments were some awful gaffe that would shock the conscience of any reasonable voter, and so should be spread as far as possible. But whatever the intent behind them, both comments are terrible mistakes—and present an opportunity for Republicans.
Of all the Left’s broadcast antagonists, Rush Limbaugh has been around the longest and has the largest audience. It just doesn’t make sense (from a Democratic standpoint) to target him.
First, doing so makes Limbaugh relevant, or rather even more relevant than usual. The President of the United States is the most important political figure in the country. Any criticism of another public figure lowers him to that person’s level. That’s a no-win situation for Obama—if Limbaugh wins this PR war, he’ll be embarrassed, if Obama wins, well, most people expect the president of the United States to be able to hold his own against the media. This Limbaugh-Obama fight isn’t over—but Limbaugh won before it started.
But also, and perhaps more importantly, the Democratic attacks on Limbaugh give him status as the leader of the opposition. If Democrats take the trouble to attack Limbaugh, presumably they are paying attention to what he is saying, and think he is enough of a threat to try to marginalize as an unpatriotic hardliner.
That’s a good strategy, if it works, but Limbaugh’s following is large enough, and he has been through enough controversies, to ensure it won’t. But it does make Limbaugh the focus of the Republican opposition. And given that Rush is indisputably the most effective, successful voice in conservative media, that’s a mistake.
The Democratic party’s inadvertent promotion of Limbaugh represents an opportunity for the Republican party. Most Republican politicians, privately, probably agree with most of Rush says. But because of political concerns (one doesn’t want to seem too extreme, and voters want government money), they feel they can’t follow his advice in practice. However, since the Democrats seem to have him on their minds, and Republicans have their hands tied politically anyway, they can now point to Limbaugh’s prescriptions (which will always sound better than what Obama does; it’s is much easier to criticize than to do) as what they would like to do if the Democrats would just let them, without having to pay the political price of actually making them a reality.
(This, more or less, is what the Democrats did while out of power—they rallied the base by encouraging people like Kos and Michael Moore. Once in power, they didn’t do any of the things the far left wanted them to do, but Kos and company served as useful idiots to rally the Democratic base).
This opportunity is what makes comments like Phil Garney’s so baffling. Rush Limbaugh might be the best spokesman the Republicans have. The GOP should embrace him, not marginalize him.