“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
The dust-up comes at a time when top Democrats are trying to make Limbaugh the face of the Republican Party, in part by using ads funded by labor. Americans United for Change sent a fund-raising e-mail Monday that begins: “The Republican Party has turned into the Rush Limbaugh Party.”
Steele told CNN host D.L. Hughley in an interview aired Saturday night: “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh — his whole thing is entertainment. He has this incendiary — yes, it's ugly.”
Steele, who won a hard-fought chairman's race on Jan. 30, told Politico he telephoned Limbaugh after his show on Monday afternoon and hoped that they would connect soon.
“I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not."
“I’m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh,” Steele added. “No such thing is going to happen. … I wasn’t trying to slam him or anything.”
On Monday’s show, Limbaugh reacted both to the comment and to the assertion on CBS’s “Face the Nation” by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the radio host is “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.”
Limbaugh said: “I'm not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don't want to be. I would be embarrassed to say that I'm in charge of the Republican Party in the sad-sack state that it's in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it's in, I would quit. I might get out the hari-kari knife because I would have presided over a failure that is embarrassing to the Republicans and conservatives who have supported it and invested in it all these years.”
On the RushLimbaugh.com home page, the transcript is labeled: “A Few Words for Michael Steele.”
In the interview with Politico, Steele called Limbaugh “a very valuable conservative voice for our party.”
“He brings a very important message to the American people to wake up and pay attention to what the administration is doing," Steele said. "Number two, there are those out there who want to look at what he’s saying as incendiary and divisive and ugly. That’s what I was trying to say. It didn’t come out that way. … He does what he does best, which is provoke: He provokes thought, he provokes the left. And they’re clearly the ones who are most excited about him.”
Asked if he planned to apologize, Steele said: “I wasn’t trying to offend anybody. So, yeah, if he’s offended, I’d say: Look, I’m not in the business of hurting people’s feelings here. … My job is to try to bring us all together.”