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Analysis: Limbaugh, White House Exploit One Another

As a talk show host, Rush Limbaugh's job is to deliver an audience. And with a long history of being provocative, he knows darn well that being provocative is an easy way to get attention.

Whether it's an 85-minute speech at the Conservative Action Political Conference or a debate challenge for President Obama, ultimately this isn't about Rush Limbaugh as the head of the Republican Party, no matter how much Democrats want Americans to think that. This is about two groups - the Democrats and Rush Limbaugh - selling their products. In this case, the Democrats are selling their brand of politics; Limbaugh, his radio show.

That being said, this back-and-forth does highlight one thing: the fact there is no leader of the Republican Party right now. Months after losing the presidency and over 2 years after losing Congress, Republicans are scrambling to figure out what their message is and who will be delivering that message.

What people forget, though, is that this happens whenever a party suffers a loss at the presidential level. The same questions were being asked of the Democrats in 2001 and 2005: "who's the spokesperson for the Democrats?" From 2001-2004 it could have been anyone from Al Gore to Bill Clinton to Tom Daschle to Dick Gephardt to Howard Dean until they settled on John Kerry as their nominee. Then after Kerry lost, the questions were raised again: Was John Kerry the spokesman for the Democrats? Hillary Clinton? Al Gore? Nancy Pelosi? etc., etc. And until 2006, when the Democrats reclaimed power in Congress, one could argue that there was no go-to Democrat to speak for the entire party.

But while the Democrats wandered through that wilderness earlier this decade, they at least didn't have to deal with a distraction like this Rush Limbaugh story, which is taking a life of its own and complicating matters for Republicans. The new RNC chairman Michael Steele is flailing and the party's elected officials are being forced to react to what's in essence a fabricated fight.

It's a very savvy move by the Democrats to continue to fan the Limbaugh flame knowing that it's causing complete chaos for their opponents - and also knowing that they're running very little risk to themselves by bashing a guy like Limbaugh, whose loyal audience would never consider supporting the Democratic Party.

Steve Chaggaris is the CBS News political director.

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