Monday, March 02, 2009
Fools Rush Out
Barack Obama first brought up Rush Limbaugh in a conversation a couple weeks into his presidency. I thought he had made a mistake -- essentially elevating a talk-show host as a leader of the opposition. Now, I'm not so sure.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele said this Saturday about Rush Limbaugh:
In an interview on CNN with D.L. Hughley, Steele assured that he, not Limbaugh, was in charge of the party before saying that he wanted to put the right-wing talker “into context.”On Monday, Rush Limbaugh blasted back at the Steele-led Republican Party:
“Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer,” Steele said. “Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes it’s incendiary, yes it’s ugly.”
“I’m not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don’t want to be,” Rush said. “I would be embarrassed to say that I’m in charge of the Republican Party in a sad-sack state that it’s in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it’s in, I would quit.”
Rush then mocked those who have criticized him for saying he wants Obama to fail, and directly challenged them to choose: You either want Obama to succeed or fail at his goal of dismantling conservatism.
“So send those fundraising requests out,” Rush said in a sneering tone, in an apparent reference to Steele, adding: “Make sure you say, `We want Obama to succeed.’ So people understand your compassion.”
“Republicans and conservatives are sick and tired of being talked down to, they’re sick and tired of being lectured to,” Rush continued. “And until you show some understanding and respect for who they are, you’re gonna have a tough time rebuilding your party.”
The president and his aides have kept the Limbaugh carrot dangled out there for all this time. Finally, Steele (and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Rep. Eric Cantor to a lesser extent) bit on it. Result: There's now an open civil war between the organizational structure of the Republican Party and the man who commands the allegiance of millions of its conservative base.
He may not like it, but it's up to Michael Steele to mend this rift. A Monday evening apology is an early attempt to do so. Good move: Steele and the RNC couldn't win this fight. This is the modern-day equivalent of Mark Twain's great quote: "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel." Rush Limbaugh doesn't need the Republican National Committee. The people who listen to Rush are, however, many of the same people who send $25, $50 and $100 checks to the RNC. A disgruntled Limbaugh has the power to dry up Committee coffers for some time.
At a moment when a beaten down right needs all the unity it can muster -- against a Democratic congressional majority that can conceivably just roll over it -- its party organization and a significant figure of its base are at each others throats.
This is something that the GOP had better learn fast: The Obama operation isn't just a smooth political operation run by a charismatic showman up front. These are smart, tactical people. They patiently played this Limbaugh card for more than a month. And the bet seems to be paying off big time right now. Steele's quick apology actually reinforces the Democrats' claim that Republicans are dancing to whatever tune Limbaugh is playing.
Steele had no choice but to apologize, but in doing so he is undercutting his own power. Added to his previous verbal gaffes, Michael Steele has done serious damage to his chairmanship barely five weeks into its existence.
UPDATE: Sure enough, the Democratic National Committee is now feasting over an emasculated Michael Steele.