March 5, 2009

Inside the Carville phone call on Rush

The Democrat attack on Rush Limbaugh, according to Politico, was a contrived plot.

Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.

The strategy took shape after Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville included Limbaugh’s name in an October poll and learned their longtime tormentor was deeply unpopular with many Americans, especially younger voters. Then the conservative talk-radio host emerged as an unapologetic critic of Barack Obama shortly before his inauguration, when even many Republicans were showering him with praise.

Soon it clicked: Democrats realized they could roll out a new GOP bogeyman for the post-Bush era by turning to an old one in Limbaugh, a polarizing figure since he rose to prominence in the 1990s.

Democrats are all over this - not just those mentioned above, but Rahm Emanuel, Americans United for Change, David Plouffe, the Democratic National Committee, and Media Matters are all involved according to the Politico article. And they can't contain their glee - with Bush gone, they've got their new villain.

But the Democrats have got this wrong, and judging by the initial knee-jerk reaction of Michael Steele, so do some Republicans. Attacking Rush will provide the Democrats some short term gain but long term pain. This is the very danger that Rush spoke about years ago talking about governing by polls. In this case it's politicking by polls.

Governing means leading not following the direction of the wind. Even President Obama apparently understood this concept when he said something to the effect, referring to the economy, that you can't lose sight of the long term by following the fluctuations of the daily market . Rush pointed out the directionless drift a government can take on by leading by polls. They should instead lead and allow the polls to follow their success or failure. Triangulation, being all things to all people) has seemingly been perfected by President Obama. And in an election, apparently it can be used very effectively. But when you apply it demonizing an opponent based on a poll you risk long term problems to achieve short term success.

What have the Democrats gained by demonizing Rush Limbaugh? It was a tactical win because it provides a great distraction from the economic meltdown that continues unabated. But how long can it remain a distraction? If they keep at it people will wonder why the Democrats aren't focused on the pressing issue of economic collapse. The alternative is to let it die down and then its really only bought them a few days.

Moreover Rush isn't the demon the far left see in him. Its been easy to make him a bogeyman when people who have never heard him think he's a lunatic. He scores badly in younger demographics. Guess what, 90% of those people who have a negative impression of him have probably never before heard him speak a word. But now he has exposure. Now he can communicate with them at least fleetingly and has a chance to allow them to develop an honest opinion rather than a soundbite impression. Rush knows this. He can serve two purposes here in the same effort - grow his audience and expound conservatism's virtue and benefits. He has to be careful how he does it but there is huge conservative upside here.

This was a classic over-reach. They thought they were on such a roll they could tar and feather Rush whom they despise while tying him to the GOP direction. Perhaps they thought it might sew a longer-term discord in the conservative ranks - the Rush camp vs. the Steele camp is an extension of conservatives versus moderates in the fermenting GOP debate. That too will abate. While there may be some in-fighting short term it will subside. It has to - the party will coalesce around a new contender by 2012 because it has to do so. The alternative is 4 more frightening years of Obama.

Unless of course the Democrats keep poking the wound with a stick and keeping the carnage fresh but appearing to take their eyes off the real problems. Or perhaps they think they can balance both.

But here's where this becomes a strategic level blunder. Rush won't lose any listeners by continuing and he may in fact gain gain some. He knows that. So he will continue to invite the President to a debate. He will exercise his broadcast muscle and stir the pot himself. It's in his own best interest to do so. And with the added exposure it gives him the microphone for a relatively uncontested 3 hours a day with new listeners listening in. Any percentage that listens more than cursorily will realize he is not a lunatic, but rather that while passionate, he makes reasonable, reasoned arguments. Against Democrats. How much impact that has is debatable. But it certainly is worth more than 2-4 news cycles of distraction.

If the Democrats ploy adds 10% more listeners to Rush that's an extra 2 million people. If 50% of them end up staying on board, that's 1 million and of those, at least 75% will be swayed to conservatism. Rush IS that good. That means a 750,000 voter switch from 2008. And that's on top of whatever happens to the Obama popularity ratings during the same time. And four years is a long time. That number could grow even more.

What looks like bad news for the Republicans and great news for the Democrats, I predict, will get turned on it's ear. Whether Rush is the de facto leader of the Republican party is irrelevant. What he can do for them by taking advantage of this opportunity is very relevant. Good luck Rush.


  1. It's not so much that RUSH is that good, it's that conservatism is that APPEALING when it's explained properly, instead of propagandized against.

    CONSERVATISM is the ticket, just gotta explain it, make people who have had propaganda in their ears for their whole lives GET it.. and they DO because most people live these principles in their daily lives to some degree or other..

    It isn't complicated. Rush makes it even simpler. He's good, but it's his MATERIAL that makes him so compelling. He'd be a mediocre "disc jockey", not really competitive with best in that biz.. but as an explicator, a color commentator so to speak, he IS good.

  2. I can't argue with you on that - conservatism's appeal is the meat of the matter. Rush just happens to serve it well.


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