Limbaugh Under Fire

Is Rush Limbaugh hurting the Republican Party? Some within the GOP allege that Rush turns people off to the party and is conservatism's toxic asset. The Democratic Party, in the absence of any Republican power in Washington to attack, is taking aim at Limbaugh.

Chairman Michael Steele stepped into the middle of this battle by telling CNN's D.L. Hugely that Rush's rhetoric was "incendiary" and "ugly."

Steele has since apologized and clarified: "My intent was not to go after Rush -- I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. ... I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. ... There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership."

This came after Limbaugh responded to Steele's statements with a verbal smackdown worthy of the WWF. While some may question the tone of Rush's response, the war on Rush needs to be understood. It's not just as an assault on a talk show host, but an attack on the movement conservatives who value his opinions. In essence, the war on Rush is a proxy war on movement conservatives, and Steele stepped in on the wrong side before correcting himself.

Steele's interview does raise important questions. Many, including D.L. Hugely and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, have credited Rush Limbaugh as the leader of the Republicans. Many conservatives would agree.

Being leader of the conservative movement isn't Limbaugh's fault, doing, or even his goal. What it is, ultimately, is a reproach on Republican leadership at all levels.

A look around Capitol Hill will show why some embrace Rush as the leader of conservatives. There's no Newt Gingrich. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have inspired no confidence from the Republican base, and, after a promising a start, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) has begun to talk of helping elect moderates and getting the NRSC involved in Republican primaries to ensure that the stronger (read: "more moderate") Republicans get nominated.

At the RNC, Steele may claim he is the de facto leader of the Republican Party, but at this point, a large chunk of Americans don't know who Steele is. Others distrust him for his work with the Republican Leadership Council.