Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rush Limbaugh's Diminished Power?

I'm not a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. I've paid more attention to him this week than ever before, considering his intemperate attacks on John McCain.

That said, note
Peter Wehner's analysis of Limbaugh's influence:

I think there is some amount of ignorance when it comes to people who don’t often listen to Rush Limbaugh trying to explain him and his influence. For one thing, he doesn’t view himself as the commanding general of a political army and his listeners as his troops. He has said, time and again, that his listeners are not “mind-numbed robots” who take order from him or anyone else. Limbaugh is above all a radio-talk-show host — an immensely talented, humorous, and well-informed one, and among the most important voices in the history of radio. He is that before he is anything else — and he has never fashioned himself as a political kingmaker or even the leader of a movement. Obviously he exerts great influence over conservatism and has influenced our understanding of it. Yet he calls things as he sees them, and sometimes his audience doesn’t agree with him. He seems wholly untroubled by that. I recall that in 1992, many of his listeners were early and enthusiastic supporters of Ross Perot. Limbaugh knew all that — and yet he criticized Perot anyway. It turned out he was right and his listeners were wrong about Perot — but at the time, Limbaugh was said to be out of step with the views of his audience. Yet he continued to make his case — and, eventually, he won over many of his early critics.
I think Rush will be wrong in 2008. Or, at least, he's wrong to villify the Arizona Senator as a traitor to the Republican Party.

To borrow from
Michael Medved's column on McCain over at Townhall:

He [McCain] has never backed Democratic candidates for president or lesser posts – other than supporting his friend Joe Lieberman in his Independent campaign for US Senate in 2006. Over the years, he has campaigned tirelessly for Republican office-holders in every corner of the country – including vigorous campaigning that helped win elections for his former rival George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. McCain has earned a lifetime rating of 83 for his Senate voting record from the American Conservative Union; his friend, Fred Thompson, won a very similar lifetime rating of 86 and appropriately dubbed himself “a consistent conservative.” While some of McCain’s harshest critics regularly talk of abandoning the GOP for some third party option (and some did so to back Pat Buchanan’s embarrassing run in 2000), McCain has never abandoned his party. On three crucial items in the Bush agenda – taking the offensive against terrorists, cutting wasteful government spending, and comprehensive immigration reform – no member of Congress has provided more loyal or significant support for the President of the United States and the leader of the Republican Party.
Now, the primary process is designed to narrow the field of candidates and clarify the party's governing vision. Unfortunately, narrow partisan battles and criticism weaken the party in the long run, which is exactly what Rush Limbaugh's doing right now with his incessant attacks on McCain.

At this time candidates are required to appeal to narrow voting constituents. Pandering to single-issue groups contrains candidates in the straightjacket of ideological conformity. There's less appreciation of a candidate's moderating propensities, and especially general election viability.

This is why parties seek to pick a nominee quickly, wrapping up partisan haggling to unify under a party standard-bearer. The GOP in the last few openly contested nominations quickly centered around a frontrunner and made that candidate their man for the White House (Reagan in 1980, G.H.W. Bush in 1992, and G.W. Bush in 2000).

This year's race for the Republican nomination - as dynamic and competitive as it has been - may ultimately be contributing to the emergence of GOP minority status, should the party prolong the process of backing a clear frontrunner.

The closest anyone's come to securing that mantle is John McCain, with his dramatic wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina. It's no wonder the media's focused so intently on the McCain campaign - his is the up-from-the-bootstraps, feel-good, straight-talk comeback of the year.

Rush Limbaugh doesn't like it. Nor do the base conservatives who gravitated to Fred Thompson's lazy waltz of a candidacy, or those who now back Mitt Romney's personally-financed bid.

Folks are certainly entitled to suppporting their preferences, but with so much at stake this year - the Democrats are looking at the best electoral environment in decades - it might behoove Rush and his Dittoheads to think about the prospects of a Democratic administration to come. They might look at the totality of McCain's conservativism and reconsider, rather than risk destroying the GOP from the inside-out, ultimately engendering a disastrous hard-left presidency in 2009?