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Clarence Page: Rush profits, but GOP doesn't

Rush Limbaugh is now the leader of the Republican Party. Just ask Democrats.

On Sunday's "Face the Nation" on CBS, President Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Limbaugh "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party."

On Monday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Limbaugh "a national spokesperson for conservative views and many in the Republican Party."

And back in January, Obama himself told Republican lawmakers in a private meeting that they needed to stop listening to Limbaugh if they wanted to get things done.

Critics on the right and left decried Obama's comment as a strategic blunder. It could only help to elevate the conservative broadcaster's stature, they said.

But now Obama and Co. appear to have made a different calculus: If Rush wants to transform the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Limbaugh, Team Obama appears to be happy to help him do it.

For weeks Limbaugh has reaped a publicity bonanza from his own bald-faced declaration that he wants President Obama "to fail." No one would care nearly as much if today's Republican Party had a strong leader.

Since they don't, Gibbs and Emanuel seemed all too happy to elevate Rush as they reacted to his comments over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Defending his earlier remarks, El Rushbo said this: "So what is so strange about being honest to say that I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?"

Gibbs interpreted Limbaugh like this: "I think it would be charitable to say he doubled down on what he said in January in wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country."

And Emanuel agreed: He "hopes for failure. He said it, and I compliment him on his honesty."

Limbaugh fired back on his show Monday, claiming that he is under attack because "President Obama wants no debate." Of course, neither does Rush. That's why he seldom invites those who hold opposing views to respond to him on his radio program. (That's also why he strongly opposes a return to a Fairness Doctrine that would require at least token gestures of fairness and balance on the public's airwaves.)

He also complains that the White House and "drive-by media" are trying to "malign me, take me out of context," even after his weekend speech was broadcast live and unedited on CNN and Fox. After the many times that Rush has taken others out of context, he must find the taste of his own medicine to be quite, shall we say, bitter.

Yet, even with his enormous appetite for self-promotion, Limbaugh has to be delighted with the publicity blitz that Team Obama has given him.

And the administration must be emboldened by polls like the one taken by the New York Times before Obama's address to Congress.

It found that only 18 percent of Americans agreed with Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the Anti-Obama-All-the-Time crowd that they should be "pessimistic about the next four years with Barack Obama."

A February Gallup poll found that 45 percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of Limbaugh, compared to only 28 percent with a favorable opinion.

No tears for Rush. That's still money in the bank for a talk show host who revels in controversy, but disastrous for a political party that wants to be anything more than regional.

Worse, Limbaugh's interests are not quite the same as his party's true leaders.

He points out that he is a conservative first, not a Republican. That's true. He long opposed Sen. John McCain, for example, for being a "RINO, Republican in Name Only."

No one would be murmuring about Limbaugh if today's GOP or conservative movement had a leader with Ronald Reagan's jolly coalition-building abilities.

That's what concerned Republican National Chairman Michael Steele when he tried to downplay Limbaugh as "an entertainer" in an interview with CNN's D.L. Hughley this weekend.

"Yes, he's incendiary," Steele conceded. "Yes, it's ugly."

But when Limbaugh took umbrage Monday, calling Steele "off to a shaky start" and "trying to be some talking-head media star," Steele scrambled to apologize, according to Politico.

"There was no attempt on my part," Steele reportedly said, "to diminish his (Limbaugh's) voice or his leadership."

Right.

Limbaugh is laughing all the way to the bank over Team Obama's criticisms, but you have to wonder, at whom is he really laughing?

Reach Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

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