Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Citizen Rush

The internets are abuzz today with news that Rush Limbaugh has essentially told Bob Dole to stick it after the former Senator asked him to lay off the criticism of John McCain. More than a few people (and here, and here) have noted that Limbaugh has a lot to gain if McCain is either not the GOP nominee or if his White House bid fails and that din is only going to get louder the further off the party reservation Limbaugh goes ...

Limbaugh is something of a Frankenstein made by the GOP in so far as he is something the party has built up and now no longer can control. A McCain victory means one of two things for Rush: 1.) he's not as influential as people think he is, or 2.) his message of conservatism is not as influential as people think it is. Either one is a losing proposition for Limbaugh, which can only mean this ridiculousness about "backing" the Democratic candidate by him and the rest of his talk show ilk is about little more than self-preservation.

It's also a helluva lot easier being a conservative blowhard when all you have to do is complain about the person in power instead of having to defend him (or her).

The GOP's relationship with Rush is something Republicans are going to have to figure out on their own. It is no longer a mutually beneficial partnership, but is now a liability. Rush seems content to blame John McCain for the party's inevitable failure this fall, but -- and this is important -- the decline and fall of the Republican party is primarily due to one man: George W. Bush.

Like it or not Bush is the most conservative president in living memory. Let no one tell you otherwise. People who say Reagan was more conservative are people who can't remember what they ate for breakfast this morning. Bush will be the human embodiment of conservatism for at least the next generation and his legacy will be one that is completely rejected by the American people this fall. Just look at the six remaining presidential candidates: not one resembles Bush in any way -- even McCain, who had to swallow hard to support Bush after 2000. Even Romney, who's all about "change" this week. There is simply no positive spin one can put on Bush's presidency. Bush's presidency been a colossal failure.

Most of America knows this. If you want to know the most telling numbers in the Republican party, here they are: Only 33% of all Americans approve of Bush right now, but an astonishing 71% of Republicans still approve of him. That's a staggering disconnect and is emblematic of just how out of touch the GOP is with the rest of the country.

This means that the nation wants something new. They are not happy with this whole "conservatism" business. Now the "movement conservatives" have been arguing (and will continue to do so) that what is needed is more conservatism. That's not how it works. Right now the public is under the impression that Bush is about as conservative as they can handle and since they are displeased with the results they're going to want to shift course and move in another direction. That means the GOP is going to have to moderate itself or face the prospect of irrelevance in the years to come.

I doubt Limbaugh is either aware of this or cares -- he and the rest of his talkers are all looking out for themselves. The frightening thing is that I'm not sure anyone in the GOP punditocracy is aware of this. Right now conservatives seem to be in that phase of decline wherein they simply refuse to believe that they were actually the responsible for their own downfall. We didn't lose Iraq, we were "stabbed in the back." We can't get our people elected because our donors aren't giving as much as they used to and people are retiring. And -- this is my personal favorite -- of course we're losing, the public schools have been indoctrinating our children to be Democrats for the last generation!

Well, thank God they're teaching the kids something! Man, if they could have only indoctrinated me into the mysteries of Algebra maybe I wouldn't have failed that class ... twice.

In other words, it's everyone's fault but the conservatives'. That's just not true. In fact, it's probably almost completely the fault of the conservatives for taking the party so far to the right that most Republicans (especially here in Wisconsin) seem more focused on purging the "RINOs" from their midst than actually winning elections.

This is no time for witch hunts. If I were the Republican Party I would go to bed thanking God for every last person who still called themselves a Republican and wake up every morning willing to everything short of sexual favors to keep them happy ... OK, maybe some sexual favors, but a line would definitely be drawn somewhere. After all, moderate Republicans, those who don't buy into the conservative wing and are never going to, have only one other place to go ...

The GOP has to convince Rush and the like-minded conservatives he represents that they are in serious jeopardy of spending the next generation in the political wilderness. The GOP actually needs to learn from the Democrats. After the 2004, after they invested so much hope and energy into toppling Bush, the Democrats spent the next few weeks crying and drinking, but by the time 2005 started they were ready to do some serious soul searching. With a few notable exceptions, they didn't blame their defeat on the courts or on voting machines, they blamed it on themselves. They went to work trying to figure out what they did wrong and what the GOP did right and by the time 2006 rolled around they were ready for action (with a lot of help from a hapless Republican party).

Hard-core conservatives don't seem like they're ready to do this any time soon and so long as they are unwilling to re-evaluate themselves they'll have a front row seat to watch the end of their empire.

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