In the first couple of years following the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, the political sense was that the true leader of the U.S. Republican Party was not Senator McCain or Sarah Palin, the defeated national candidates, nor ex-President Bush, nor any member of the House or Senate. Rather, the person most defining and leading the emerging Republican absolutist opposition to the president at every turn -- from stimulus to health care to most of his executive appointments -- was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He was insisting to his daily audience of 20 million that Obama was a Hitler, a Stalin, a radical Muslim anti-Christian Communist Socialist, who should be fought at every turn, in the name of all that is holy and patriotic.
In due course, the 2010 election, which the party won in the House of Representatives using the threat of "death panels" and "pulling the plug on grandma" under the president's signature "Obamacare' legislation, produced some opinion leaders who temporarily eclipsed Limbaugh and fought their way through the 2012 presidential primaries. Rush jumped to the front of the Tea Party train, claiming it for his own. Most candidates mimicked Limbaugh on many issues; none took him on directly except the unfortunate Jon Huntsman, who left a safe job in China in a vain attempt to prove the party remained rational. Governor Romney ultimately won the nomination and wound up fighting the election on the theory (warmly espoused by Limbaugh) that 47 percent of the U.S. population who received government entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicaid, veterans' benefits and food stamps, were tax-dodging deadbeat pawns for Democrats' social bribery. Romney lost big-time, but Limbaugh didn't, because he was left with four more years of a radio franchise built on stoking hatred of the reelected president.
But other political leaders had emerged amid successful Republican state campaigns and began to search for answers to the national ticket's defeat in losing most population segments except older white men. They included Chris Christie, the engaging and somewhat maverick governor of New Jersey; Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who acquitted himself reasonably as a rookie in the national campaign; Florida's Marco Rubio, along with the re-emergence of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush; newly elected Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, carrying on and expanding his father's libertarian mantra. Each to some degree was willing to distance himself from the Limbaugh gospel; Rubio even took him on directly on the Limbaugh radio show regarding immigration. Christie effectively has done the same. Governor Bush certainly has, and Paul Ryan has somewhat more quietly. Rand Paul sometimes takes a step aside from the social control issues espoused by Limbaugh. All have been polling within shouting distance of Hillary Clinton for 2016, with Christie (the most distinct from Limbaugh overall) clearly polling best against all potential Democratic candidates.
And yet... when it comes to actual Republican party positions on all the current political issues, none of these supposed new leaders of the Party has come close -- individually or collectively -- to showing the power and influence Rush Limbaugh continues to wield over the party's stances and choices. And House Speaker John Boehner, the highest ranking national Republican office-holder, shows even less authority and control as compared with Limbaugh, who might as well be the real Speaker of the House given his ability to make it dance to his radio tune. Democrats don't like to be bothered taking on Limbaugh because they think it gives him more credibility -- but he has enough already to actually determine the course of national policy far more than the Speaker, or even the president.
Rush did lose on the "fiscal cliff" issue to start the year: he thought we should go over it, but he got outfoxed by a couple of old foxes, Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell. Since then, however, he has called the tune in the House of Representatives by calling in his chits with his radio audience, which controls the Republican primaries in almost all the Tea Party states! (Rush's base IS the Republican "base.")
He wanted sequester, and we got it. He wanted a farm bill without food stamps, and we got it. While the New York Times' David Brooks and other literate Republicans did the homework and confirm that food stamps have expanded because the structure of poverty" has expanded in the wake of the great recession (most go to children and whites), Rush doubles down on Romney's 47 percent and "informs" his (mostly white) audience that food stamps are another Obama giveaway to his minority voters who don't want to work. And they believe him: that's the point -- since virtually nobody (Republican or Democrat) challenges him openly, he can reiterate to his audience (mostly rural where the only "all-news radio' is Limbaugh) that he is "99.99 percent" right. So they vote his way.
Nowhere is this extraordinary power to control one house of Congress from a radio booth in Florida more evident than on the issue of immigration reform: he's totally against it, and look where the House is now on that issue. Boehner can't beat him, so he's joined him. Same with Eric Cantor. Paul Ryan and all the Bushes plus McCain and Graham are no match for him. Neither is David Brooks, and the usually rational Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthamer have now caved-in to the Rush-base arguments. Rubio has lost popularity among Republican primary voters significantly since Limbaugh excommunicated him because of passage the Senate immigration bill (which Rush had previously said Rubio would abandon before the vote).
It's an odd man the GOP has accepted as its intellectual leader and political guru. A climate science denier (" proven hoax"), he also just this week denied cardiovascular science claiming that salt does no harm whatsoever and has been demonized by the "health Nazis." Not to mention the feminazis who have emasculated men to the point where George Zimmerman had to use a gun to kill Trayvon Martin because he was never allowed to learn to fight like a real man.
Rush has shown the Republican "lead" on foreign policy too -- strangely silent on Syria, Afghanistan and even lately Iran. He doesn't know which way to go yet on those issues, so it follows that his party doesn't either. Want to know the Republican Middle East platform for 2016 -- tune in to EIB radio at 9 a.m. eastern -- in about three years! Meanwhile, the GOP rides with Rush on all domestic issues -- by the way, he also wants another debt ceiling showdown -- look out in November. Have fun while it lasts, GOP.