Limbaugh – Steele Cage Match

RNC chairman Michael Steele was on D.L. Hughley’s CNN show Saturday night and people are slowly getting interested:

Some obvious questions come to mind:

  • D.L. Hughley has a talk show?!
  • What’s up with that shirt Steele’s wearing?

Mostly, though, people are talking about Steele’s comments about Rush Limbaugh.

So let’s put it into context here. Let’s put it into context here. Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s unclear what the meaning of “it’s” is here.    As best I can tell, it’s Limbaugh’s assertion at CPAC that he wants Barack Obama to fail.

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I’d be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he’s talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the U.S. government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work. So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, ‘Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.’ (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ Why not? Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the drive-by story is. I would be honored if the drive-by media headlined me all day long: ‘Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.’ Somebody’s gotta say it.”

That’s mildly entertaining, in a red meat to the party faithful sort of way.  It’s “incendiary” and “ugly,” though, only if taken out of context.   Of course he wants Obama to fail at imposing policies he disagrees with.  That’s a far different thing than, for example, hoping the economy continues to tank to make it easier for Republicans to win seats in 2010.

Michelle Malkin isn’t happy.  I’m mostly befuddled.

Limbaugh’s response was pretty good.

“I’m not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don’t want to be,” Rush said. “I would be embarrassed to say that I’m in charge of the Republican Party in a sad-sack state that it’s in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it’s in, I would quit.”

Rush then mocked those who have criticized him for saying he wants Obama to fail, and directly challenged them to choose: You either want Obama to succeed or fail at his goal of dismantling conservatism.

“So send those fundraising requests out,” Rush said in a sneering tone, in an apparent reference to Steele, adding: “Make sure you say, `We want Obama to succeed.’ So people understand your compassion.”

My CPAC neighbor Melissa Clouthier thinks Steele could learn a thing or two from Limbaugh:

Washington insiders are bathed in moderate and liberal group-think. Any idea outside the liberal mainstream is branded as mean, hateful, and base. So Republican leaders find themselves saying,”I’m not a racist! I’m not dispassionate! I care! I do!” And then, they go about working on crap legislation to make it somewhat better. These disgusting half-measures make Republicans look weak and confused ideologically.

Instead of playing defense, the Republicans, including Chairman Steele need to go on offense. We need to demonstrate that we are the party of the little guy, the small business man. We need to have the best ideas on health care, the environment, and the economy. We need to speak these ideas clearly and unequivocally.

And when a man like Rush Limbaugh articulates what millions of Republicans are feeling, the leader of the RNC does not get on the liberally biased station CNN and bash an ally and friend. It’s wrong. He should apologize. And Chairman Steele should go to work doing what he has said he wants done: a changed Republican Party that will win elections by winning in the arena of ideas.

Limbaugh played a powerful role in mobilizing the base in 1994 and he’s still a major influencer today.  But he’s not the leader of the Republican  Party; Steele is.   Unfortunately, this was a misstep on the new leader’s part.   This wasn’t a Sister Soulja Moment; he was merely attacking a figure popular with his base for no apparent reason.  It’s one thing to condemn Limbaugh when he says something that’s actually ugly and incendiary.  This, though, was nonsensical.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. WR says:

    We are the party of the little guy. That’s why when we were in charge we rewrote the tax laws to give massive tax cuts to those pulling down millions of dollars. We have the best ideas on health care — you can have as much as you can pay for, and when you’re out of money, you can die. We have the best ideas on the environment — drill, baby, drill! We have the best ideas on the economy — just look at the booming shape the country is in after eight years of our policies!

    You know, maybe Rush Limbaugh isn’t your biggest problem.

  2. MattF says:

    Well, this is all pretty interesting. And edifying, I think. Disorganization and infighting is very un-Republican, isn’t it? Is Obama doing this? Pass the popcorn.

  3. tom p says:

    Rush then mocked those who have criticized him for saying he wants Obama to fail, and directly challenged them to choose: You either want Obama to succeed or fail at his goal of dismantling conservatism.

    James, here is the problem with the above statement (and the perceived wish of Rush’s): He does not care whether the other guy is right or wrong, he wants them to fail because he is a slave to his own idealogy, the facts be damned, this is a holy war.

    In this year, at this point in time, under these circumstances, if Obama fails, it will be the GOPs fault. Why? Because they want him to fail, and will do everything they can to see to it that he does. That will be the percption.

    Like it or not, we have seen what “conservatism” brings to the table (i understad this is not “true” conservatism, but what else do you have to offer?) and we do not like it.

    We have words on on one side…. and reality on the other… They both suck. I for one would rather see the GOP come to the table with some real ideas, not more rhetoric, which is all rush has to offer.

  4. Wayne says:

    It cracks me up when people try to diminish Rush as just an “entertainer” not that the left has any problem listening to movies, rock star or reporters which most if not all are entertainers. That is like saying that Reverend King was just a reverend or Obama is just a politician. Rush is more than just an entertainer. He is a voice for a very large part of this population. He is also a leader of ideas and is able to articulate very well ideas that many of us have. He is also a very good motivator.

    Do I agree with everything Rush says? No. I do agree with him more than about any political leader that is out there.

    I believe many of the GOP is trying to play nice so they won’t offend anyone then maybe they can get elected. Selling out their principles and not sticking up for their ideas will result in them not getting elected. Huckabee did this on his show the other night. He had Ferraro and Geraldo on stage and they all knew what Rush meant by hoping Obama fail and Huckabee put his head down and let them get away with lies.

    The GOP which it looks like includes Steele have a batter wife syndrome with the MSM. They don’t to say anything to offend the MSM because they know the MSM will beat them with it.

  5. Wayne says:

    Bush took over a recession from Clinton and turned it around. The economy did very well for six years until the Democrats took over Congress. But then again the Democrats are never at fault.

  6. Wayne says:

    “He does not care whether the other guy is right or wrong, he wants them to fail because he is a slave to his own idealogy, the facts be damned, this is a holy war.”

    That sounds more like liberals than Rush. Don’t liberals wish that Republicans fail in pushing conservative agenda?

    Rush said that he wants Obama to fail because he thinks Obama’s socialist agenda will cause the USA to fail. I suppose many out there would prefer USA to fail as long as Obama succeed.

  7. Pug says:

    Bush took over a recession from Clinton and turned it around. The economy did very well for six years until the Democrats took over Congress. But then again the Democrats are never at fault.

    Wayne is cleverly implying that Democrats are always at fault.

  8. sam says:

    Steele to Rush: I’m sorry

    “I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. “It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not.”

    “I’m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh,” Steele added. “No such thing is going to happen. … I wasn’t trying to slam him or anything.”

    Asked if he planned to apologize, Steele said: “I wasn’t trying to offend anybody. So, yeah, if he’s offended, I’d say: Look, I’m not in the business of hurting people’s feelings here. … My job is to try to bring us all together.”

    Snicker. It’s reported that after the Politico interview, Steele was seen entering a reeducation clinic for remedial instruction and participation in a unhurtingpeoplesfeelings therapy session. No word on the spine-insertion surgery at this time.

  9. Wayne says:

    PUG
    Only a liberal could draw that conclusion. To most liberals, admitting one mistake means you admit that everything you have done is a mistake. Research my post and you will find many instance that I have disagree with the GOP. Can you say the same? Can you admit that the Democrats had a hand in this crisis as well?

    The economy had its ups and downs during the Bush administration but did likewise in the Clinton administration. Can you point anywhere where a Liberal admits a negative aspect about Clinton or a positive about Bush?

  10. tom p says:

    That sounds more like liberals than Rush. Don’t liberals wish that Republicans fail in pushing conservative agenda?

    Wayne, yes I am a left of center independent… does that make me a “Liberal”??? I don’t know, what I do know is that all I want is what works, whether it comes from the “right” or from the “left”. And when I hear stuff like:

    Bush took over a recession from Clinton and turned it around. The economy did very well for six years until the Democrats took over Congress. But then again the Democrats are never at fault.

    I know I am listening to another partisan hack.

    Clinton (and a GOP congress) gave Bush a budget surplus. Bush and a GOP congress gave us… what???

  11. tom p says:

    I suppose many out there would prefer USA to fail as long as Obama succeed.

    And may I remind you, Obama only succeeds if we succeed? (and by we I mean the majority of the populace, not the narrow top 1% of the wage earners of America)

  12. Rudy says:

    Sadly, none of the comments which I’ve seen here address the REAL issue at hand. We have become a nation without conscience. Everyone is thinking in terms of a “me first” mentality, which is what got us into the mess we are in right now. Obama is as much of a sucker as all the rest, because he simply is feeding the greed which got us here. He rightfully states that our medical system has become too expensive. But the real problem goes back to why it is so. Answer–Flat out GREED! Doctors who look at you for two minutes and charge you $100 per minute for that privilege? Where’s the rhyme and reason behind that?

    Please understand one thing. I am AGAINST universal health care provided by the government, on basic principle. But even a government system will fail if it does not rein in the greed and enforce cuts on ghastly fees. I can remember a time when doctors went into the profession because they cared more about the people than about the money. Doctors can moan all about their high malpractice premiums that they want to. But fact is, if patients felt as though doctors actually cared about them, they’d have far fewer lawsuits–and the care quality would go WAY UP!
    If doctors aren’t willing to start caring again, then it’s time for them to GET OUT and bring in new ones who do!

    The same thing applies to everything else that the government has thrown money at in recent months. Greed got them there–and now they want the government to bail them out of their blunders. Organized labor screwed big companies, then cry in pain because those companies can no longer compete–and the workers end up without jobs. You can’t kill the goose that laid the golden eggs and still expect egg production. Stupid, asinine greed got us here–and only national repentance for our sins will get us out, NOT more government bailouts!

  13. peng bandith says:

    Michael Steele should praise Rush Limbaugh for what
    he has done for the Republican party in particular
    and for the conservative movement in general.It was
    an intention of CNN guy to make Michael Steele and
    Rush Limbaugh mad at each other so the Democrats can
    destroy the GOP and the conservative movement.
    My country LAOS was under the control of the pro
    communist North Vietnam since 1975 the year I arrived USA as a refugee or the war victim.
    They use their power to control the people and the
    Democrats use money to control the people.They will not give up their power unless the majority
    of the American people vote them out of office.
    The American people should be aware of what is
    going on in the world.Take Cuba for example,how
    long did Fidel Castro have power,if he is sick he
    passed his power to his brother.If you want
    somebody to control your life please vote for
    the Democrats.The government should help the
    disabled people not the do not want to work people.
    I own a business and own my building ,every year
    I have to pay almost $6000.00 and I have to borrow
    the money to pay the state gov’t because I do not
    make profit and I want to sell my business.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Clinton (and a GOP congress) gave Bush a budget surplus. Bush and a GOP congress gave us… what???

    partisan hack you say lol

    Rush then mocked those who have criticized him for saying he wants Obama to fail, and directly challenged them to choose: You either want Obama to succeed or fail at his goal of dismantling conservatism.

    James, here is the problem with the above statement (and the perceived wish of Rush’s): He does not care whether the other guy is right or wrong, he wants them to fail because he is a slave to his own ideology, the facts be damned, this is a holy war.

    Whats wrong with it is it is not true neither is this.
    you feeling my is is baby?

  15. Bithead says:

    Look, guys,Get your minds around this if you can; Limbaugh isn’t as popular as he is because he has any particular entertainment value. He’s popular because he has the inight to pick up what the rank and file… the grassroots conservative Republicans are thinking, and articulating those thoughts,ideas and values.

    This entire meme about Limbaugh is part and parcel of the attack on the Republican grass roots efforts. Limbaugh most assuredly isn’t in the leadership of the Republican party, whatever the Democrats might be spouting at the moment, but the attack serves the purposes of the Democrats by getting the Republican leadership to disown the values of the Republican grassroots. Stele didn’t do that, but came close enough for serious questions to arise from his comments.

    I say this: I’m disappointed with Cantor and with Steele in this. I’ve been angry with McCain for years for the same reasons.

    Here it is; I want Obama to fail in his plans, because his success means America fails. His successes thusfar are why we’re still losing ground as a country. If Steele, Cantor, McCain and anyone else cannot get their feeble minds around that concept I want them nowhere near the reins of the Republican party.

  16. Dantheman says:

    Bithead’s 9:44 AM comment is far closer to correct than his usual. Looking at it from the opposite side, the Republican party in recent years has seemed to this Democrat to be a contradiction. The social conservatives provide most of the votes, but the Wall Street end of the party got practically all of the benefits of Republican rule. They told the social conservatives that they could not do more for them, because they needed to win elections in the non-Southern and non-rural parts of the country where the social conservatives’ ideology is poisonous, and for years the social conservatives accepted that, even when Republicans controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress earlier this decade.

    I see the anti-Limbaugh campaign as forcing the Republican leadership to either explicitly embrace social conservatism, and turn it into a regional party, with little to no chance of winning elections in the North, industrial Midwest or much of the West, or turn its back on social conservatism, and lose its most fervent supporters, allowing Democrats to win more in the South and rural Midwest.

  17. Bithead says:

    I see the anti-Limbaugh campaign as forcing the

    Republican leadership to either explicitly embrace social conservatism, and turn it into a regional party, with little to no chance of winning elections in the North, industrial Midwest or much of the West, or turn its back on social conservatism, and lose its most fervent supporters, allowing Democrats to win more in the South and rural Midwest.

    Funny thing; I don’t recall Reagan and his appeal being limited to one region or another.

  18. Dantheman says:

    “I don’t recall Reagan and his appeal being limited to one region or another.”

    True enough. That might actually start a reflective person to think about the differences between Reagan and Limbaugh. Since reflection isn’t your strong suit, I’d start with Reagan’s lack of demonization of his adversaries (comapred to Limbaugh’s routine use of terms like feminazi or referring to Chelsea Clinton as the family dog) and some measure of pragmatism (including signing tax increases in nearly every year of his presidency after 1981) totally lacking in Limbaugh.

  19. Bithead says:

    That skirts right by the point you were making. You specifically liked social conservatism to an imagined failure of the Republican party on all but small regions within the country.

    Clearly, social conservatism isn’t the defeat mechanism you try to cast it as.

    Would you care to try again, this time actually adressing the point you made?

  20. Dantheman says:

    No, my point is that Reagan’s conservatism is overstated on both sides of the aisle. He certainly did not expend any significant fraction of the effort fighting for socially conservative causes as he did fighting for economic conservate ones. Reagan is data point #2 (Nixon being data point #1) of the argument that Republicans pay lip service to the social conservatives votes to get elected, but don’t deliver the goods for them.

  21. Bithead says:

    Nixon?

    Laughable. Nixon was at besh a Bush-mold centrist from SouCal… no conservative, he.

    He was conservative as compared to Humphrey…and George McGovern… but then again, who wasn’t?

    I’d say you’ve dug that hole down far enough.

  22. Dantheman says:

    I think you are misreading me. Nixon _ran_ as a social conservative (the Silent Majority, Southern Strategy, etc.). He did roughly as much for social conservatives as Reagan did.

  23. nicestrategy says:

    Nixon and Reagan had a foil character in the form of the knee-jerk liberal, or, as current progressives sarcastically remark, the dirty f’ing hippy. The pacifist, hedonist, socialist who makes excuses for criminality was a unrepresentative caricature born from a grain of truth — the immature emotion of 1960s — but it stuck to and poisoned the word “liberal” for several decades.

    Obama has set himself up with a comparable foil in the form of Limbaugh, an intolerant know-nothing who makes up statistics out of thin air, demands ideological purity, has a mean streak and more than a little hypocrisy.

    Are both foil characters unfair strawmen? Sure. But one is based in the past and one is based in the present. One amounted to a disorganized, whiny, elitist, ineffectual political minority and the other is a demagogue with a large megaphone and a large amount of power within his party.