The Right’s Rush Problem

Ken AshfordObama Opposition, RepublicansLeave a Comment

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum weighs in, anti-Rush:

Here’s Rahm Emanuel on Face the Nation yesterday: “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican party.”

What a great endorsement for Rush! (And we know Rush is fond of compliments – listen to his loving account in his CPAC speech of the birthday lunch given him by President Bush just before Inauguration Day.)

But what about the rest of the party? Here’s the duel that Obama and Limbaugh are jointly arranging:

Well, I don't think Obama is really "arranging" to make Rush the face of the GOP.  Rush, the great grandstander that he is, doesn't need Obama's aid to do that.  But to the extent that Obama is interested in painting Rush as the face of the GOP, he is (wisely) doing so behind the scenes, letting his surrogates pick up the brushes.

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

I don't get how that first sentence jibes with the remainder of the paragraph.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise – and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

I think the comparison to Jesse Jackson of the 1980s is misplaced.  Jackson was, after all, a politician (he ran an admirable campaign for the presidency in 1984, gaining 21% of the popular vote in the primaries).  Sure, Jackson was outside the mainstream, which made him both odd and have a popular following, but he was an entertainer (as Rush is).

The better comparison is: Rush is to the Republicanism of the late 2000s as Michael Moore was to the Democratic party of the early 2000s.  With one big exception, of course.  And that Rush has LOTS of influence and the ability to drive a wedge into the Republican party.

In fact, that is precisely what he is doing.

UPDATE —  James Woolcott says it better:

During its Rovian/Fox News heyday, the right tried to make Michael Moore's mug the face of the Democratic Party, hold Democrats responsible for every egregious thing Moore said or did. It only partially succeeded because Moore was too independent an operator to be seamlessly morphed with Al Gore and John Kerry. But Limbaugh bleeds Republican red. He has been glorified and embraced as the perfect Ganesh by Newt Gingrich, CPAC, and the Bush family. He is the face and mouth of the conservative movement. A mouth that has swallowed Michael Steele whole, and has room for plenty more.