Who’s running the Republican Party?

Ryan Day

The Republican Party has de facto ownership over the rhetorical idea of patriotism. In both the 2004 and the 2008 presidential campaigns, the GOP ran on the platform of protecting the country from evil aggressors. The obvious implication there was that the Democratic Party wasn’t up to the task, and perhaps the darker implication was that the Democratic Party had other, more destructive plans for the U.S.
Conservative political author Anne Coulter would certainly have you think so, with book titles like “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.”
With such a fear that the Democratic Party is going to bring down the country from the inside, one would get the idea that the Republican Party wants to see the United States succeed through any issue, problem or disaster. Apparently, this is not the case given the comments of right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh.
While Limbaugh has always been a master polemicist, his newest comments push the envelope of this persona and threaten the image of the very party with which he affiliates. Limbaugh said, “I want everything he’s doing to fail … I want the stimulus package to fail … I do not want this to succeed.”
The question of how much power Rush Limbaugh has over the Republican Party, or how representative he is of that party, can and should be raised. A place to start this analysis would be the comments of the GOP chairman Michael Steele toward Limbaugh’s statement. He called Limbaugh “incendiary” and “ugly” and claimed that he himself was “the de facto leader of the Republican Party,” not Limbaugh. This would suggest that the Republican Party as a political entity wished to distance itself from the extremist positions of the radio host.
Steele, however, couldn’t make up his mind. He came back the next day and said, “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” This is the chairman of the Republican Party speaking, and he is legitimizing Rush Limbaugh’s role of leadership. The final word, then, is that the Republican Party is embracing Rush Limbaugh and his comments. This has come straight from the top.
If that isn’t enough to conflate the Republican Party and Rush Limbaugh, it doesn’t matter anyway, because the social implications of Limbaugh’s ties to the Republican Party are even more profound.
Rush Limbaugh equates himself with the Republican Party. More people know the name and the views of Rush Limbaugh than the name and views of Michael Steele. People equate Rush Limbaugh with the Republican Party, and in the end it doesn’t matter what the Republican Party wants to say; people will still believe that Limbaugh is a voice for the GOP.
This leaves the GOP in a tough position, and if Michael Steele’s comments are any indicator, they don’t know quite how to deal with it yet. They can publicly cut the ties that Limbaugh has with the party, but this is problematic because Limbaugh is a leader that far-right leaning citizens rally around. He will always be able to stir up that demographic, and the Republican Party can use this powerful tool.
On the other hand, they can keep the ties with Limbaugh. If they do this, however, they must suffer the consequences of his polemic. This is the stance that they took when Michael Steele recanted his public outcry against Limbaugh. This decision makes the Republican Party the party that is rooting for the destruction of the United States, at least socially.