4843002Radio host Rush Limbaugh, whom the White House has repeatedly suggested is the true head of the Republican Party, is challenging President Obama to a debate.
"If these guys are so impressed with themselves, and if they are so sure of their correctness, why doesn't President Obama come on my show?," Limbaugh said today. "We will do a one-on-one debate of ideas and policies."
"They wanted me to be the focus of attention," Limbaugh continued, referencing reports that the White House is working to tie him to the GOP. "So let's have the debate! I am offering President Obama to come on this program -- without staffers, without a TelePrompTer, without note cards -- to debate me on the issues. Let's talk about free markets versus government control. Let's talk about nationalizing health care and raising taxes on small business."
"If you can win at this, then come here and beat me at my own game, and get rid of me once and for all, and show all the people of America that I am wrong," he added.
The White House had no immediate response to the request.
Politico reported today that Democrats hatched an effort to link Limbaugh and the GOP when they realized that his positive rating among voters under 40 was a paltry 11 percent – lower even than Mr. Obama's controversial former preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The radio host essentially repeated the comment in a high-profile speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, further fueling White House efforts to tie to polarizing radio host to the Republican Party.
The GOP, as political-watchers well know, is looking to broaden its appeal after losing significant ground in the 2008 election; Limbaugh appeals largely to older white men, most of whom are strong conservatives, and is not seen as someone who will draw new types of voters to the GOP.
That's why viewers of CBS' "Face The Nation" recently saw White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel tell Bob Schieffer that Limbaugh had become "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party" – and why, just today, Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, wrote in the Washington Post that "Rush Limbaugh has become [the Republicans'] leader."
It's also why Democrats have been overjoyed to see flare-ups involving RNC chair Michael Steele and other Republicans, who have distanced themselves from the radio host and later apologized for doing so. (For evidence, check out the DCCC's Limbaugh apology form letter.)
Congressional Republicans, who would surely prefer that Limbaugh disappear from the headlines, have launched a counteroffensive, dismissing the White House effort as a "cynical strategy" and an attempt to divert people from the real issues.
The back-and-forth benefits both the Democrats and the radio host, says CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris.
This is about two groups - the Democrats and Rush Limbaugh - selling their products," he says. "In this case, the Democrats are selling their brand of politics; Limbaugh, his radio show."
Likely less thrilled with all the Rush-related headlines, however, is a Republican Party that still lacks an obvious leader and is "scrambling to figure out what their message is and who will be delivering that message," he writes. (Read Chaggaris' full analysis here>.)