Why Rush Is Good For Republicans

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

That's the title of Ramesh Ponnuru's column in this week's Time.  I'll let you read it, but there's something in there I particularly note:

[T]he debate today has a special charge because, like the similar debate over Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a few months ago, it is tied up with questions about the future of the Republican Party.

In one camp there are those who believe the Republican Party must modernize its message to account for changing circumstances. The columnist David Brooks has called these people the "reformers." Against them are the "traditionalists," who believe that Republicans need only recommit themselves to Ronald Reagan's agenda to succeed again. (Read "Can Michael Steele Broaden the Grand Old Party?")

The traditionalists push for upper-income tax cuts. The reformers want to cut the payroll taxes paid by the middle class. Traditionalists often deny that global warming is real. Reformers just want to make sure that our answer to it is cost-effective. Traditionalists want to hold the line on government spending. Reformers think it's more important for Republicans to advocate market-friendly solutions to problems such as rising health-care costs and traffic congestion.

Limbaugh, needless to say, is a traditionalist, and some reformers have become fierce critics.

Ponnuru goes on to say that "the vast majority of conservative voters agree with Limbaugh, not the reformers, on most of these [ideological] questions".

Ponnuru is playing a semantical game here, and missing the entire problem.  Replace the word "traditionalist" with "conservative", and "reformer" with "moderate" — because that is what he is talking about.  And then you'll recognize that, to Ponnuru and most conservatives, the Republican Party is the conservative party — even though they don't come out and say it.

And that's their problem.  Because there are many Republicans who are not conservative, at least on many ideological issues.  Rush, therefore, is not good for Republicans; he is good for conservatives.  And conservatism, as an ideology, is dying. 

Rush and his ilk keeps the Republican party from becoming a broad-based party.  Michael Steele, a moderate, had the opportunity to expand the party, but found himself catering to the far right, and kissing Limbaugh's ring.  And now the conservatives want to expel him.  This may keep the Republican Party staunchly conservative, but will it help it win elections?

Many conservatives think all the GOP has to do is win over conservatives.  This is wildly wrong.  The GOP didn't lose conservatives in the last two elections; it lost moderates and independents.  And where do moderates and independents come down on Rush Limbaugh?  According to Gallup:

He enjoys a positive image among the majority of Republicans (although about one in four Republicans view him negatively), while having a much more negative image among independents and particularly among Democrats.

So how can it be said that Rush is good for Republicans?