In a New York Times op-ed that coincides with the release of his Rush Limbaugh biography, Zev Chafets writes:
THERE are many theories for why very conservative Republicans seem to be doing so well lately, taking their party’s Senate nominations in Florida, Kentucky and Utah, and beating Democrats head-to-head in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. Some attribute this to a generalized anti-incumbent mood. Others say it reflects the tendency of parties in power to falter in midterm elections. Recently it has been fashionable to ascribe right-wing success to the Tea Party movement.
But the most obvious explanation is the one that’s been conspicuously absent from the gusher of analysis. Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh.
So let me get this straight: the longstanding, amply documented tendency of American voters is to trend against the incumbent party during midterm elections and times of economic strife. Here we are, a Democrat in the White House, mid-term elections on the horizon, and the economy in tatters. This coincides with a conservative resurgence. And the “most obvious explanation” is a talk radio host whose listeners mostly vote overwhelmingly conservative anyway?
Suffice it to say that the influence of Mr. Limbaugh is less than obvious to me, especially since as recently as the 2008 presidential campaign, the supposedly all powerful GOP kingmaker watched as his party’s primary voters narrowed the field to the single candidate he most abhors and repeatedly railed against, John McCain. Months later, President Obama succeeded in passing health care reform of a kind that the GOP successfully staved off since the early days of the Clinton Administration.
It is nevertheless worthwhile to explore what it would mean if Mr. Chafets is correct, and Mr. Limbaugh is “the brains and spirit” behind a GOP resurgence predicated on being “the party of no.” Best as I can tell, this would mean that Republicans gave up negotiating marginal improvements to a once in a generation health care bill that passed even without their support in a form less favorable to their interests, and in exchange they’re going to elect a marginally more conservative Congress in the 2010 midterms.
This would make perfect sense if electoral politics were an end rather than a means, but neither the GOP nor Rush Limbaugh have quite understood the difference in a very long time.
One additional excerpt deserves scrutiny:
When the Tea Party movement emerged, Mr. Limbaugh welcomed it. The movement’s causes — fighting against health care reform, reducing the size and cost of government, opposing the Democrats’ putative desire to remake America in the image of European social democracies — were straight Limbaughism. A very high proportion of the Tea Partiers listen to Mr. Limbaugh. Sarah Palin’s biggest current applause line — Republicans are not just the party of no, but the party of hell no — came courtesy of Mr. Limbaugh. (Ms. Palin gave the keynote address at the first national Tea Party convention.) Glenn Beck, who is especially popular among Tea Partiers, calls Mr. Limbaugh his hero.
So why the lack of attention? Mr. Limbaugh has studiously refrained from claiming credit for the movement.
If Mr. Chafets himself acknowledges that Rush Limbaugh reacted to the emergence of the Tea Party, why does he write as if the talk radio host could legitimately claim credit for it?