The Rush factorJohn McCain already has enough problems with trying to unite the conservative base of the Republican Party behind him, but now the most listened-to radio talk show host in the country is openly flirting with simply not supporting the Republican nominee:
Asked what Mr. McCain might do to change his mind, Mr. Limbaugh said: “I don’t think there’s anything he could do. If he did do it, he would be accused of selling out.” Then, in a familiar baritone as resonant as it is on the air, he added, “If I were to endorse McCain based on the current circumstances, I’d be looked at as a party hack.”
To the extent Mr. Limbaugh offered Mr. McCain any consolation, it was this: “What I can tell you I’m sure of is, I’m not going to be endorsing Obama or Hillary — unless it’s a joke to make a point.
Reached Thursday, the McCain campaign’s communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, said she had no comment on Mr. Limbaugh’s criticisms. But the senator’s supporters are concerned enough about where Mr. Limbaugh is leaning that former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas telephoned the commentator privately late last month from the international economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, to preach Mr. McCain’s virtues, Mr. Limbaugh said.
And purely as a broadcaster, he said, it will not make much difference whether Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton wins.
John McCain can pretend that Rush Limbaugh's lack of support does not matter, but the entire national Republican apparatus knows that they largely owe Limbaugh and his colleagues in the conservative radio sphere for the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994. The turnout in heavily-Republican areas in 2000 and 2004 was due in no small part to the influence of EIB.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rush is telling the truth when he says that he is in the business to get listeners, and that any impact on the outcome of elections or the process of government is because listeners, not Limbaugh, take action. Many liberals mistakenly believe that Rush Limbaugh's devotees are lemmings who will do whatever Limbaugh tells them, but that presumption is based on the falsehood that listeners to Limbaugh and other conservative chat hosts do not have minds of their own. I've listened to Rush for nearly 16 years, and have also developed a taste for other conservative hosts during that time. I have never agreed with Rush 100% of the time, and on some days I don't even agree 75% of the time-but I have always liked him because I believe that he is someone who shares many of my basic values and beliefs about politics and society. Most of Limbaugh's listeners see his show as one that allows them to visit a place for three hours a day where Red State America can have its own on-air town hall of sorts.
Limbaugh's listeners will do what they think is best in the voting booth, but that doesn't mean that Limbaugh's words have no impact-to deny this would be like me saying that my words in the blogosphere have had no impact in East Tennessee. I enjoy writing and I want to have readers-and I know that my readers come to me not to be informed, but because they are
informed. I respect that they can think for themselves, but I know that things that I have published on the internet have had impact and influence because people have told me so (it always surprises me to learn who is reading). If my blogging has an impact, Rush Limbaugh has had far more of one whether it is intended or not.
John McCain can play dumb all he likes about the influence of his conservative critics in talk radio or even the blogosphere, but failure to reach out to those critics or to prove himself may very well cost him dearly in November.