Feature

Rush Limbaugh: The Republicans’ leader?

Reactions to The White House designating Rush Limbaugh the “intellectual’’ and spiritual leader of the Republican Party

Do Republicans ever want to be a majority party again? asked David Frum in Newsweek. Then we’d better stop acting like mindless ditto-heads in Rush Limbaugh’s “cult.” In a wily political maneuver, the White House is calling the conservative radio host the “intellectual’’ and spiritual leader of the Republican Party. Republicans are now “cooperating” with this strategy by rushing to Limbaugh’s defense. Rush may be entertaining, but his crude belittling of “feminazis,” liberal “losers,” and minorities alienates voters Republicans must woo, particularly independents and women. Moreover, the bulky, cigar-smoking Limbaugh is a “walking stereotype of self-indulgence,” with a history of addiction to painkillers, three broken marriages, a $400,000 Mercedes-Benz Maybach, a private plane, and a 24,000-square-foot Florida mansion. Given that Obama is a “devoted husband and father” with few vices, Limbaugh is hardly “the public face” the GOP needs.

Neither Rush nor any Republican has proclaimed him the party’s leader, said National Review Online in an editorial. But he does understand “the importance of building a popular conservatism that speaks to today’s concerns,” as his weekly radio audience of 20 million attests. That’s why Democrats want to foist a “false choice” on Republicans: Either “kowtow” to every one of Limbaugh’s pronouncements, or “denounce him as outside the realm of legitimate political discourse.” Perhaps the White House could devote itself to governing, instead of trying to divide and conquer Republicans. 

But if Limbaugh isn’t the Republicans’ leader, asked Joan Walsh in Salon.com, then who is? When GOP Chairman Michael Steele dared call Limbaugh’s show “incendiary” and “ugly” two weeks ago, he quickly begged El Rushbo for forgiveness. When Limbaugh mocks the terminally ill Ted Kennedy, or accuses actor Michael J. Fox of faking his Parkinson’s symptoms as a political ploy, why do no Republicans say—Enough! I’ll say it, said Rod Dreher in The Dallas Morning News, and not just because Rush is obnoxious. His “crackpot fundamentalism” reduces the rich intellectual history of conservatism to a demonization of government, regulations, and taxes, and a glorification of the free market. Has he noticed that “the free market is in global systemic collapse”? To rebuild conservatism, we must first “grasp that the world has changed and that conservatism must change with it.” If our only future is to kneel before Limbaugh’s outdated views, “count this conservative out.”

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