Neoconservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh appears to be teaming up with President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and his friends. It seems they have found a common interest: Both of them benefit from inflicting grievous damage on the Republican Party.
It’s fairly straightforward how Rahm and his friends benefit. Any damage done to the Republicans might well translate into votes for the Democrats. But it’s a bit more devious how Rush benefits. Nevertheless, neoconservative pundit David Frum has done an excellent job explaining it:
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.
But will it work? Will Rush and Rahm get what each one wants?
Maybe the best way to approach those questions is to look into what moved the Democrats to cook up the idea of crowning Rush.
Conservative blogger Jonathan Martin of Politico has done an exceptional job laying out the story of how the Democrats came up with their “Limbaugh Plan”. Like many other great schemes, it began almost by accident.
According to Martin, James Carville and Stanely Greenberg happened to ask some voters about Rush in an October 2008 poll. When the results came in, they were astonished to discover how deeply unpopular Rush was with younger folks. Carville is quoted as saying (with some amazement), “His positives for voters under 40 was 11 percent.” Martin goes on:
Paul Begala, a close friend of Carville, Greenberg and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, said they found Limbaugh’s overall ratings were even lower than the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor, and William Ayers, the domestic terrorist and Chicago resident who Republicans sought to tie to Obama during the campaign.
Then came what Begala called “the tripwire.”
“I hope he fails,” Limbaugh said of Obama on his show four days before the president was sworn in. It was a time when Obama’s approval ratings were soaring, but more than that, polls showed even people who didn’t vote for him badly wanted him to succeed, coming to office at a time of economic meltdown.
After that events took off and within a few weeks the Democrats had shaped a strategy — backed by Rahm — of painting Rush as the de facto leader and face of the Republican Party.
The strange thing is, Rush cooperated. But why wouldn’t he? Rush is the first to admit he’s an egotist and the Democratic attack gives him — as David Frum pointed out — a chance to avoid being marginalized and to become even more important in national politics than he already is.
Of course, this unholy alliance is not good for Republicans. If the Democrats and Rush get their way, the Republican Party will shed all the moderate and younger voters who are alienated by Rush Limbaugh. Publicly, Rush has said he is pleased the Democrats are “elevating” him because that means he can reach more people with his message. But it’s difficult to believe he privately believes it’s that simple. Rush is already a household name and his views are well known. Folks who are not familiar with him are probably apolitical to begin with and not likely to become curious about his politics.
So there you have, near as I can put it together, one of the strangest alliances I’ve yet to see in domestic politics. Whether and how long it continues is anyone’s guess.