Rush Job: Inside Dems' Limbaugh plan
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.
Limbaugh is embracing the line of attack, suggesting a certain symbiosis between him and his political adversaries.
"The administration is enabling me,” he wrote in an e-mail to POLITICO. “They are expanding my profile, expanding my audience and expanding my influence. An ever larger number of people are now being exposed to the antidote to Obamaism: conservatism, as articulated by me. An ever larger number of people are now exposed to substantive warnings, analysis and criticism of Obama's policies and intentions, a ‘story’ I own because the [mainstream media] is largely the Obama Press Office.”
The bigger, the better, agreed Carville. “It’s great for us, great for him, great for the press,” he said of Limbaugh. “The only people he’s not good for are the actual Republicans in Congress.”
If Limbaugh himself were to coin a phrase for it, he might call it Operation Rushbo – an idea that started out simply enough but quickly proved to be deeply resonant by a rapid succession of events, say Democrats inside and outside the West Wing.
The seeds were planted in October after Democracy Corps, the Democratic polling company run by Carville and Greenberg, included Limbaugh’s name in a survey and found that many Americans just don’t like him.
“His positives for voters under 40 was 11 percent,” Carville recalled with a degree of amazement, alluding to a question about whether voters had a positive or negative view of the talk show host.
Paul Begala, a close friend of Carville, Greenberg and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, said they found Limbaugh’s overall ratings were even lower than the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor, and William Ayers, the domestic terrorist and Chicago resident who Republicans sought to tie to Obama during the campaign.
Then came what Begala called “the tripwire.”
“I hope he fails,” Limbaugh said of Obama on his show four days before the president was sworn in. It was a time when Obama’s approval ratings were soaring, but more than that, polls showed even people who didn’t vote for him badly wanted him to succeed, coming to office at a time of economic meltdown.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first to jump on the statement, sending the video to its membership to raise cash and stir a petition drive.