The strategy took shape after Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville included Limbaugh’s name in an October poll and learned [that he had an 11% approval rating with voters under 40]. 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.Rush's "I hope he fails" line was big.
... 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.Now, of course, Carville, as usual, is crowing about the fabulous Democrats and mocking those dismal losers on the other side. But he must also secretly be scared of the Democrats' powerful, fearless, articulate critic. Those Republicans in Congress were conveniently cowed, and the last thing that needed to be done was to ruin Rush. But Rush gets energy from the attention. If only those under 40 folks would actually listen to his radio show and find out what he's really saying. It's easy to hate him from afar, to regard him as poison, not to be touched at all. I felt that way myself. But if they were to overcome that barrier and actually listen — as I did — they might get hooked in — as I did.
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 email 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.”
By February, Carville and Begala were pounding on Limbaugh frequently in their appearances on CNN.
Neither Democrat would say so, but a third source said the two also began pushing the idea of targeting Limbaugh in their daily phone conversations with Emanuel.
Conversations and email exchanges began taking place in and out of the White House not only between the old pals from the Clinton era but also including White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Woodhouse.
The White House needed no more convincing after Limbaugh’s hour-plus performance Saturday, celebrated on the right and mocked on the left, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he re-stated his hope Obama fails....
By Sunday morning, Emanuel elevated the strategy by bringing up the conservative talker, unprompted, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and calling him the “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.”Oh, really?
Even Republican National Chairman Michael Steele joined in with a surprising critique of Limbaugh as a mere “entertainer,” who is “ugly” and “incendiary.”
“He took a little match we had tossed on the leaves and poured gasoline on it,” said one Democrat of Steele.
Steele was forced into calling Limbaugh to apologize Monday, an embarrassing climb-down following the RNC chairman’s criticism of the conservative talk-show host.
But Democrats kept at it in rapid-fire succession, thrilled that Steele had validated their claim that Republicans were scared to cross Limbaugh...
“I want to send Rush a bottle of vitamins,” said Begala. “We need him to stay healthy and loud and proud.”
It’s something of a back to the future tactic for Democrats: painting the GOP as the party of the angry white male. But unlike Newt Gingrich or other prominent Republicans, Limbaugh doesn’t have to mind his tongue.So let's have a free-wheeling outsider voice reviving conservatism. In fact, with all this newfound power, Rush is likely to concentrate on explaining conservatism. He's not out of control, and it would be naive to think he's going to say outrageous things that can be used to hurt Republicans. He's more likely to throw stink bombs when he's not getting enough attention. What he will do now, I think, is highlight things Democrats say and show you why those things are outrageous — and he is at his best and most entertaining when he does exactly that.
“The television cameras just can’t stay away from him,” Carville said Tuesday.... “Our strategy depends on him keeping talking, and I think we’re going to succeed.”It's a risky game, and Limbaugh can't lose it. We'll see what happens to the Republicans he means to help.