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They Hurt Rush’s Feelings!

The president’s pointed comment to Republicans last week that they “can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done” has driven the talk radio community more or less insane. This morning, I heard callers to the Chris Plante show in metro D.C. compare President Obama to Hugo Chavez, invoke the spirit of Joe the Plumber (“an average citizen who asked a question!”) and demand that their fellows buy all the products advertised on Limbaugh’s shows (which would involve buying a lot of hair growth formula).

Limbaugh stoked the anger on National Review’s blog, the Corner.

One prong of the Great Unifier’s plan is to isolate elected Republicans from their voters and supporters by making the argument about me and not about his plan. He is hoping that these Republicans will also publicly denounce me and thus marginalize me. And who knows? Are ideological and philosophical ties enough to keep the GOP loyal to their voters?

There’s a bait and switch here, as Limbaugh defines “GOP voters” as “Rush Limbaugh listeners.” On the contrary, Rush Limbaugh listeners are in no danger of leaving the GOP… maybe as much danger as, say, black women making under $30,000 a year are of leaving the Democrats. To come back, the Republicans actually need to win back voters who switched to the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. The president is right in suggesting that a political strategy based on what Limbaugh says would be politically disastrous: it includes immigrant-bashing, characterizing stimulus checks for people below the bottom income tax bracket as “welfare,” and other fringe arguments.

The other thing misunderstood in this story is that Obama is far more popular than Rush Limbaugh. He’s not exactly taking a risk by dismissing Limbaugh as a bad strategist with fringe ideas any more than a Republican Senate candidate takes a risk by attacking Michael Moore. Republicans have been dining out on the idea that Limbaugh helped win the 1994 elections for a long time: they even made Limbaugh an honorary member of the House GOP freshman class. But they overestimate the tolerance voters have for his style right now.

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