Limbaugh not necessarily freshest, best face of Republican Party ideology


My colleague, Jason Miller, is seriously mistaken if he believes Republicans are somehow beholden to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Put simply, the extent of Limbaugh’s political power is no greater than the sheer distance the average American can throw him, which, considering the average American does not possess robotic arms, isn’t far.

Sure, Limbaugh has his own radio show, and it’s a popular radio show. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, it’s carried by more than 600 affiliates nationwide.

However, I say: Big deal, folks.

Radio shows won’t do you any good if your audience is comprised primarily of elderly people and those with webbed feet.

The only point I could possibly concede to Miller is that many moons – and Taco Bell burritos – ago, Mr. Limbaugh was a much leaner, meaner, liberal-crushing machine.

In fact, The National Review once went so far as to dub Limbaugh the “Leader of the Opposition” during the early years of the Clinton administration.

However, since the early 1990s, there have been long periods of drought, times during which Limbaugh’s public approval ratings have stayed unmistakably flat.

For instance, according to the Gallup organization, 60 percent of Republicans approved of Limbaugh’s angry radio bellowings in 2003, compared to the exact same number – 60 percent – in 2008.

Meanwhile, that leaves a solid 40 percent of Republicans who continually view Limbaugh as unlikeable, or who are indifferent to the man altogether.   

Taken together with numbers for Independents and Democrats, the story becomes all too clear: While many Americans seem to be aware of who Rush Limbaugh is, they still really, really don’t like him.

In effect, then, Limbaugh is a near-universally known public persona. I will further concede that, during the past few months, his media presence has increased significantly as the Republican Party has scrambled to gather its bearings after being handed major political defeat after major defeat.    

It is also true that, as Miller suggests, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele and other fellow Republicans have even gone so far as to openly apologize for even the slightest criticisms of Limbaugh.   

But the fact remains that many Americans, even quite a few Republicans, still find Limbaugh to be a highly polarizing political figure.   

On the other hand, I have always personally viewed Limbaugh to be more of a Jabba the Hutt-like political figure.   

For instance, I find it interesting that both Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hutt have control over a shadowy dungeon: some distant, gloomy radio show studio, and an underground desert lair, respectively.

What’s more, they clearly both demand attention from their constituencies: Mr. Limbaugh with his radio listeners and Mr. Hutt with the rancor pit monster and those green, axe-wielding pig creatures.

And finally, while Limbaugh, like Hutt, probably won’t be ruling the entire Republican “empire” any time soon, he sure does seem to have a knack for commanding respect and rallying individuals behind him.    

For now, though, and perhaps for time to come, without overwhelming support from the majority of voters, Limbaugh will clearly remain just one more voice – albeit a very loud, menacing, highly syndicated voice – in the Republican dark.