What happened
Conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh stunned his audience this week by saying on the air that he might not back the Republican presidential nominee this fall. “You don’t have a genuine down-the-list conservative,” he said. (Newsmax.com)

What the commentators said
In case you haven’t heard, said Josh Marshall in TalkingPointsMemo.com, “talk radio yakkers and political muckity mucks” like Limbaugh and Tom DeLay don’t think John McCain is conservative enough to deserve the Republican presidential nomination. But the polls aren’t so clear on whether McCain is really “anathema to the GOP base.”

Clearly, McCain has a problem, said Fred Barnes in The Wall Street Journal. He should be the “overwhelming favorite” to “capture” the nomination after winning the South Carolina primary, but he’s not because he has “alienated” so many conservatives over the years. He can improve his chances by campaigning openly on his solid record on conservative issues—like abortion.

Nonsense, said Robert Tracinski in Yahoo! News, on “every issue other than the war, he stands for capitulation to the left.” If you want “socialized medicine, higher taxes, and global warming regulations,” you have two choices: Vote Democratic, or vote McCain. If you want the closest thing to a conservative available in 2008, support Rudy Giuliani. He “may be the last hope to prevent a Republican suicide in 2008.”

The conservative “poohbahs” are in an uproar, said David Brooks in The New York Times (free registration), but the rise of McCain and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee doesn’t mean “the conservative movement is headed for the ash heap.” It just shows that “the silent majority of conservative voters” is more diverse than “conservative officialdom.”

The real reason McCain is still in the running is simply that “no compelling conservative alternative has emerged,” said Peter Wehner in National Review Online. That leaves conservatives, “uninspired by any of the choices,” to pick from a pile of unappealing options, and “some (often unenthusiastically)” are “lining up behind McCain.” It helps that he’s trying to make himself more conservative by passing himself off as a tax-cutter—but only a little.