IS LIMBAUGH NO LONGER THE BOSS OF THE GOP?
I'm sure it's only a matter of time before some pundit asks whether Rush Limbaugh has ceased to be the "boss" of the Republican Party -- after all, he expressed support for General Stanley McChrystal shortly after the McChrystal article in Rolling Stone became public, yet now President Obama has fired McChrystal and replaced him with General David Petraeus, and even Republicans are saying good things about Obama's decision. And Limbaugh has recently defended BP and attacked Republicans for failing to defend Joe Barton, while many Republicans, uncharacteristically, are attacking Limbaugh right back.
But I'm not sure Limbaugh ever really was the "boss" of the party. The guiding spirit of the party, sure -- he's been like a combination of Dick Morris and the Delphic oracle to Republicans, someone they regard as having an almost mystical ability to tap into the thinking of the public, or at least of the hardcore wingnut public (i.e., the voters they'll need in the low-turnout midterms). But I'm not sure he was ever more than that.
Yeah, there was a moment early last year when a lot of them were apologizing to him. Well, mainstream Republicans back then thought they needed to maintain a fig leaf of civility -- remember Cantor and Romney and Jeb and all those other guys forming the National Council for a New America, which sought to engage in "thoughtful dialogue with the American people" (an effort that, as I recall, began and ended with one so-called pizza summit)? Rush (and Palin and Dick Armey and Rick Santelli and Murdoch/Ailes/Beck) had a gut sense that the way to beat Obama was not with dialogue and finesse, but with brute force -- "I hope he fails," accusations of totalitarianism, and so on -- and that turned out to be a pretty good instinct.
But hasn't that approached reached its limit? Well, we'll see -- if Rand Paul and Sharron Angle actually lose I'll say yes, but their fate is very much an open question. I think what's really happening is that, in the case of McChrystal, there wasn't a clear-cut hardcore-wingnut response -- righties were split on whether Obama had to enforce the chain of command, and then the Petraeus pick became uncriticizable for them. And the issue of BP is very, very unusual -- for the first time in years, probably since Bush sought Social Security privatization, that voters in the middle have angrily gravitated leftward en masse on an economic issue. (Hell, only 18% of Texans -- residents Barton's home state, the ultimate oil state -- think Barton's apology to BP was appropriate, according to a new poll.)
In other words, this is an unusual month. I don't think there'll be very many more issues on which Republicans will feel they have to agree with Obama.
But Rush may never again seem as if he's leading Republicans by the nose, because now they're pretty much where he is on ideas and tactics. There won't be many disagreements to apologize for because Rush and elected Republicans don't disagree on all that much anymore.