Rush and the Right: The ‘Clown’ GOP Leaders Fear

Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown student Sandra Fluke–calling her, among other things, a “slut” for advocating for contraceptives coverage–has caused some stirrings on the right that are worth looking at.

One outcome is the idea that Limbaugh’s an outlier who sensible people repudiated. Kathleen Parker‘s Washington Post column on Saturday (3/2/12) cheered Limbaugh for uniting all decent people in opposition to his crude attacks:

Who’d have thought that Rush Limbaugh would become the great uniter in this divisive political season?

Indeed, he has united decent people of all stripes and persuasions with his vile remarks about a Georgetown University law student.

Actually, the Republican presidential candidates hardly distinguished themselves in discussing Limbaugh’s comments. (Mitt Romney eventually managed to say it was “not the language I would have used.” Tough words!) It’s important to remember this is all coming from the same person who pondered Barack Obama’s fullbloodedness.

On ABC’s This Week (3/4/12), Republican pundit Matthew Dowd attempted to dismiss Limbaugh as someone people don’t really listen to:

There’s a myth around Rush Limbaugh. This idea that he influences a large number of Republican voters is a complete myth. Keep in mind, Rush Limbaugh attacked Newt Gingrich before the South Carolina primary, and Newt Gingrich won South Carolina.

And then Rush Limbaugh attacked Mitt Romney before the Florida primary, and Mitt Romney wins Florida. I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don’t have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon.

They think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon. They don’t think he’s helpful in this marketplace. They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus. It’s great he is entertaining and all that. But nobody takes him seriously.

This is strange. Limbaugh has no great power over voters, but politicians and candidates with actual power are afraid of him? This reads like an attempt to pretend that Limbaugh isn’t enormously influential–not to mention powerful–among conservatives and the Republican Party. This simply isn’t the case. Remember in 2009 Michael Steele–then the head of the Republican National Committee–had to walk back some critical comments he made about Limbaugh. It was widely interpreted as a humiliation of Steele, and a sign that Limbaugh does, in fact, really matter.

The best assessment of Limbaugh’s relationship with powerful Republicans came from another ABC panelist, conservative George Will: “The Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.