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.
If Rush doesn’t make a move, recent history will repeat itself. Romney’s multimillion-dollar ad buys and the mainstream media will destroy Rick Santorum before the end of January. Though he is an excellent conservative candidate and could beat Obama in 2012, Rick will be called “unelectable” by so many pundits over the next three weeks that it will become conventional wisdom. The conservative vote will split between Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Huntsman. Ron Paul will take his customary 12-20%. And Romney’s quarter of the GOP vote will be good enough to win … unless Mr. Limbaugh decides to intervene.
Rush has been toying with the idea of crushing Mitt for months. He spent an entire show dissecting Romneycare, explaining how it destroyed private health insurance in Massachusetts. Rush frequently allows callers to egg him on, virtually begging him to unload both barrels on Romney. For the past two days, Rush has been ridiculing Romney’s decision to align himself with the quintessential moderate Senator John McCain, one of the most frequent targets of El Rushbo’s derision.
Rush has to be chomping at the bit.
Romney has been using second place as a shield since Donald Trump shot to the top of the polls then fizzled in April. By virtue of being everyone’s alternate choice, Romney’s absurdly vulnerable record has gone virtually unscathed as other leading Republicans have been torched and left for dead. The remaining field of GOP challengers are running on vapor. With country club Republicans filling Mitt Romney’s coffers and nearly a billion dollars of his own, Romney can flood every media market and almost buy the nomination. As things are, only Rush can stop him. But will he?
On several levels, Rush wants to — to stand up for conservatives and conservatism, to punish the GOP establishment, to avoid a McCain 2008 redux and to have fun. Good reasons, all.
Let’s hope he does.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.