Rush Limbaugh, the marauding Frankenstein's monster of the Republican Party, is on the loose again, causing all kinds of political damage with his signature off-balance swings. But as has become his custom recently, the pain from Limbaugh's rampage is being felt by his creators -- his enablers -- inside the GOP.
Limbaugh and the rest of his get-John McCain brain trust -- Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, and campus instigator Ann Coulter -- have been tripping over themselves to get in front of a microphone (preferably a television one) to denounce the Republican Party's presumptive nominee and to suggest that perhaps conservatives should even vote Democratic come November.
After years of watching Limbaugh and his various band of midnight riders within the Republican Noise Machine launch countless, hateful crusades against liberals and Democrats, it's extraordinarily satisfying to watch the Republican Party leadership discover what it feels like when Limbaugh sets his venomous, factually challenged sights on their own front-runner.
For progressives, the sprawling GOP brawl is what blogger TRex would call a schadenfreude sundae. What could be more enjoyable than watching McCain get bogged down in the far-right swamp? Answer: Watching a handful of right-wing pundits come to the belated conclusion that Limbaugh is a dunce. Or, as one Weekly Standard blogger put it last week, the Limbaugh-led response to McCain was "unhinged -- and at times spectacularly disgraceful." And Dinesh D'Souza concluded, that, yes, Limbaugh is an "egomaniac" who "has grown accustomed to conservative bigwigs worshiping at the Shrine of Rush." (Truth is, Limbaugh's not that well liked among Republicans.)
Really? Limbaugh is spreading misinformation? He's wallowing in demagoguery while bordering on megalomania? He and his pals appear to be far more interested in the number of media mentions they rack up than they do in advancing the conservative movement? Ah, what a tangled web the GOP weaves. Wonder how McCain and the Republican Party minions enjoy following behind Limbaugh's broadcast each weekday with a bucket and shovel, cleaning up the mess spread all over the floor. Enjoy!
But this is what Republicans created. They wanted Limbaugh to be an attack dog and to chew up and spit out his/the party's opponents. They wanted him to label Democrats as traitors ("What's good for Al Qaeda is good for the Democratic Party in this country today"), to label them abhorrent and mentally deranged. They wanted Limbaugh to ignore any semblance of decency when demonizing the other side. Indeed, there has been virtually no offensive line that Limbaugh has crossed that Republicans have not dutifully justified or explained away.
Even last year when Limbaugh denigrated members of the U.S. armed forces, calling military men and women who criticized the war in Iraq and advocated withdrawal "phony soldiers," what did the GOP do? It rushed to Limbaugh's defense.
The pats on the back came from presidential contender Fred Thompson and Senate Republican Conference chairman Jon Kyl (AZ), and House Minority Leader John Boehner (OH) as well as his No. 2, Roy Blunt (MO), along with fellow Reps. Mike Pence (IN), Scott Garrett (NJ). Mean Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN) supported legislation that commended Limbaugh following his "phony soldiers" crack. Rep. Eric Cantor (VA) even unveiled a Stand With Rush e-petition, urging "conservatives around the country" to fight for Limbaugh.
Oh, and let's not forget Mitt Romney's reaction to the "phony soldiers" controversy, which was priceless. (Romney was the candidate Limbaugh championed as the one true conservative in this year's Republican race.) Romney flip-flopped! Here he is momentarily chastising Limbaugh's comments. And here Romney is, just days later, as he "rushes to the defense of Rush Limbaugh." (And Republicans used to claim that candidate Al Gore had no moral compass?)
Meanwhile, it really was rather sad to watch former Sen. Bob Dole last week write a letter to Limbaugh trying to reason with the talk-show host about whether candidate McCain was sufficiently conservative. Or when McCain himself suggested that the talk show hosts simply "calm down." Or when Bud McFarlane, former national security adviser to President Reagan, took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal over the weekend to urge Rush and his angry pack to "be rational."
Rational? Where have these Republicans been for the last decade? The Noise Machine doesn't do rational. Was Limbaugh being "rational" when he toasted photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib as "good old American pornography"? Was Malkin being rational last year when she attempted to Swift Boat a traumatically injured 12-year-old boy? Was Coulter being rational ... well, ever?
Sorry, GOP grown-ups. If there's one thing the Republican Noise Machine is allergic to, it's reason. And decency, and respect, and rational behavior.
And besides, why is it left to retired Republican graybeards like Dole and McFarlane to try to broker peace with the Limbaugh crowd? McCain, the party's presumptive nominee, is being savaged by a corral of radio talk-show hosts every day, and yet the silence among Republican elected officials has been deafening. Why? Because they're too afraid to stick up for their own candidate, too afraid Limbaugh and his wannabes will try burn somebody else at the stake.
I don't think progressives could have choreographed a better media meltdown if we tried.
Fact is, every time Limbaugh causes a controversy these days, the Democratic Party's political fortunes rise just a little bit -- like when he's treating McCain like a bum, or degrading phony soldiers, or mocking actor Michael J. Fox for allegedly faking the symptoms of his crippling Parkinson's disease while appearing in a Democratic-sponsored campaign ad.
What's so spectacular for the home team is that Limbaugh's crusade to demolish McCain stems from the radical right's fervent desire to cleanse the Republican Party of those who are deemed to be insufficiently pure in their conservative beliefs. And it's not just the candidates. Limbaugh has been clear that his deep disdain for McCain is driven by the fact that he might attract voters in the fall -- the wrong voters -- who do not adhere to the radical right's litmus test of right and wrong.
What Limbaugh and company are doing with their diatribes is launching political correctness into the stratosphere, and in the process herding voters toward the Democratic camp.
The best part? The whole crusade has been a colossal flop. On the eve of the Super Tuesday primary, lots of cogs in the Republican Noise Machine demanded that their readers and listeners embrace Mitt Romney.
Instead, McCain and Mike Huckabee -- the other GOP candidate deemed totally unworthy by the mighty Limbaugh -- pretty much ran the table and shoved the anointed one, Romney, right out of the race. I'd suggest the stunning failure to move the needle even an inch among self-identified Republican voters represented a nice punctuation point on the Republican Noise Machine's collapse, which, naturally, has closely mirrored President Bush's downward spiral. (The same post-Bush tremors are being felt at Fox News; read about their ratings woes here.)
Why did the get-McCain gambit fail so miserably? Maybe Republican voters saw through the transparent attacks. After all, Limbaugh himself wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal during the 2004 presidential campaign in which he commended McCain for being among the "unabashed and unashamed advocates of conservative principles and policies" in his speech at the Republican convention.
And if Limbaugh's uncontrollable disdain for McCain is based on that candidate's allegedly leftward drift on the issues, then why didn't Limbaugh try to run Rudy Giuliani out of the race? (Not that Rudy needed any help.) Giuliani's history of supporting abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research, and gay rights makes McCain look like Ronald Reagan's long-lost brother.
And I'm sorry, but Romney as the conservative true believer? Baystaters must have spit up their Summer Shack clam chowder when they heard that line. In a manic attempt to veer right for his White House run, Romney flip-flopped on a buffet of supposedly core Republican issues, such as immigration reform, abortion, gun control, tax cuts, and gay rights. (Go here to watch Romney perform one of the purest flip-flops ever captured on tape.)
More likely, Limbaugh is just wildly out of touch with the Republican Party. During President Bush's radical pro-war tenure, the right-wing talkers and bloggers convinced themselves they represented the mainstream -- the majority -- of the GOP. But they don't. They represent the radical CPAC wing of the GOP. And it's a shrinking minority.
I just hope the McCain Crazies keep it up. Their unhinged efforts perfectly capture the state of today's conservative movement. For instance, at one point when Limbaugh was ranting against the Arizona senator on his radio show, a caller asked whether he thought McCain would pick Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as his running mate. Limbaugh sniffed that "Lindsey Graham is certainly close enough to [McCain] to die of anal poisoning."
A Limbaugh pal told the New York Daily News that the host was simply "using a time-honored synonym for 'brown-nosing.' " But as the paper reported, "[I]f you Google the term, the only people who seem to be using it are proprietors of porn sites. "
And then there was Laura Ingraham, the oxymoronic thinking person's right-wing radio host, who became so unnerved at the prospect of a McCain nomination that she suggested that some despondent conservatives would turn themselves into "suicide voters" and cast a ballot for a Democrat in November rather than vote for McCain. (Charles Hurt, the D.C. bureau chief for the New York Post, made the same unhinged analogy.)
Suicide voters and anal poisonings, all in the name of destroying the Republican nominee from within. Hey, GOP, that's quite a Noise Machine you've constructed. Now good luck trying to dismantle it.