Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee unless Rush Limbaugh decides he shouldn’t be.
Conservatives adore and revere Rush. We love his show. We buy his products. Someday in the distant future, we will mourn his loss. Rush appeals to our reason. He amazes us with his oratory, dazzles us with his wit. He ignites our passions, buttresses our beliefs and sharpens our arguments. Bestselling author and screenwriter Andrew Klavan aptly compared Rush Limbaugh to Elvis, both as a cultural phenomenon and an agent of change. El Rushbo is in a group by himself. He is one of one.
Over 20 years ago, Rush Limbaugh cornered a rebel’s market. He correctly painted liberalism as the modern establishment. It is an establishment that he rails against, parodies and ridicules 15 hours a week to the delight of the right on over 600 radio stations nationwide. For millions of us who passionately believe in limited government, Rush provides catharsis, intellectual ammunition, comic relief and hope that our government will return to its founding principles.
In short, during a GOP primary election season, Rush Limbaugh is holding a fistful of aces. And he may just play a hand.
Think of the length of a big story’s news cycle. For illustrative purposes, let’s use the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal. On May 28, 2011, the former New York congressman tweeted his celebrated photo. The ensuing drama and its potential implications were the top story on every major network through Weiner’s resignation on June 16. The fallout from the resignation garnered coverage for several days after. A big story can easily last three weeks. So what about a huge story?
The New Hampshire primary is on January 10. South Carolina’s is January 21. Florida’s is January 31.
Now imagine if Rush Limbaugh, the undisputed king of talk radio, the godfather of the conservative movement, the most listened-to voice in America, endorsed a candidate and spent three weeks explaining why, contrary to conventional wisdom, Mitt Romney is actually the least electable candidate in the GOP field. Think that’ll get some coverage?
In the first week, the mainstream media will devour it with glee: Republican-on-Republican violence. The GOP in disarray. In week two, after Romney underperforms in New Hampshire and the liberals realize that their favorite Republican is tumbling, they’ll attack Rush. They’ll belittle his influence and try to discredit his ditto heads as right-wing loons. In week three, they’ll start questioning the legality of Rush’s meddling, complaining about fairness and undue influence. They’ll posit legal theories about equal time and permissible political speech over the airwaves. Near the end, they’ll realize that they’ve spent the better part of a month discussing Rush Limbaugh. And in the meantime, a conservative candidate will have slipped past their attack machine, won the South Carolina primary and built a full head of steam heading into Florida. At that point, it will be too late to save Mitt.
And what if Rush keeps his sword in its sheath?
At the moment, Romney has a high floor and low ceiling. Mitt hasn’t polled below 19% since he announced his candidacy. He took 25% in Iowa, which was supposed to be a weak state for him. With five candidates splitting the anti-Romney vote, Mitt’s 25% of the electorate will allow him to take New Hampshire and South Carolina, at which point he will be nigh unbeatable.