Does Rush Limbaugh Run The GOP?

In this Jan. 30, 2008, file photo, radio personality Rush Limbaugh arrives for a screening of Bernard and Doris at the Time Warner Center in New York. AP Photo/Gary He

For all the talk of new politics and a new start with a new administration, the media person who has emerged as the chief voice of opposition during the first week of Barack Obama's presidency - Rush Limbaugh - has been doing this for 20 years.

The talk-radio titan said, days before Obama was sworn in, that he hoped Obama failed because he didn't believe in the incoming president's policies.

It's kept him in the headlines ever since, to the point where MSNBC on Thursday asked: "Is Rush running the GOP?" The day before, every Republican House member voted against Obama's economic stimulus plan, a bill Limbaugh has ridiculed as the "porkulus" plan.

"Obama was trying to marginalize me," Limbaugh said. "His hope was that the House and Senate Republicans would join him in denouncing me. Didn't work."

When Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican, tried to praise his House leadership this week by saying it's easy for talk-show hosts to stand back and throw bricks, the headline on the Politico Web site read: "House GOP member to Rush: Back off." Gingrey was so bothered by the phone calls of complaints that he visited four conservative talk-show hosts, including Limbaugh, the next day to apologize.

Limbaugh, he said, was a conservative giant and one of the "voices of the conservative movement's conscience."

Can it get any better for a personality whose business is built on buzz?

"Rush Limbaugh is first and foremost a radio performer," said Michael Harrison, publisher of the trade journal Talkers magazine, which notes that Limbaugh has been the most listened-to talk-show host since at least the mid-1990s. "He's not a political leader. He doesn't make more money by turning elections. He only exists to gather large audiences and raise more advertising revenue and he does it terrifically."

(Limbaugh is heard on some 600 radio stations across the country, and more than 14 million people listen to him at least once a week.)

Yet count columnist Michael Wolff, writing in the Huffington Post, as one who believes Limbaugh is "being played."

He could prove valuable to the president, who has sought bipartisan support for many of his plans and romanced Republicans in his first week in office. Being able to point to an opponent like Limbaugh could help him with the millions of Americans for whom the message of ending partisan bickering rang true on Election Day.

Obama even cited Limbaugh in seeking support for his economic plans.

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he said. "There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats. We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done."

A liberal advocacy group, Americans United for Change, said Friday it was using Limbaugh's words in radio ads it was launching against three Republican senators: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, George Voinovich of Ohio and John Ensign of Nevada. The ads, supporting Obama's economic plan, urges voters in those states to call their senator and "tell him he represents you, not Rush Limbaugh."

Wolff wrote that he believed the dinner Obama had with conservative columnists before his inauguration was a pointed snub to Limbaugh.

"He's tried to make it out to be a political point ever since," he wrote, "but mostly he sounds like a guy who's hurt he didn't get invited to the hot party."

Asked about Wolff's comments, Limbaugh said, "Who?"

Another conservative talk-show host, William Bennett, said on CNN that Limbaugh's statement wasn't a good idea.

"The locution - `I want him to fail' - is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated," he said.

He noted that former President Bill Clinton used to talk about Limbaugh all the time. "It never helped Bill Clinton," Bennett said. "It certainly helped Rush."

It seemed clear that Limbaugh knew exactly what kind of impact he would make when he first said he wanted Obama to fail.

"I would be honored if the drive-by media headlined me all day long: `Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails,"' he said on the air. "Somebody's gotta say it."

Limbaugh, who just marked his 20th year in syndication and signed a contract last year reportedly paying him $38 million a year through 2016, has outraced his competitors to be the voice of opposition.

It could be a valuable role, or it could misread the national mood. He had mixed results last year; launching "Operation Chaos" to urge listeners to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton in Democratic primaries to hurt Obama. He virulently opposed John McCain in the Republican nomination race, forging an uneasy peace when GOP voters didn't listen.

Limbaugh said the "I hope he fails" statement came after an explanation of his opposition to liberal politics.

"I want the country to succeed and the stated policies of the administration will not achieve that objective," he said. "I support the president but I opposed his policies, just as the left claimed to support the troops but opposed their mission of victory. I thus am confident that all conservatives want the country to succeed."
  • CBSNews

Comments