The leader of the 1994 Republican Revolution was among several top Republicans who said Sunday that Rush Limbaugh is not the Republican Party's leader, and blamed the characterization on the Obama White House.
"He's not the leader of the Republican Party," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Michael Steele's one of the leaders. Bobby Jindal, who you had on recently, is one of the leaders. Sarah Palin's one of the leaders. Eric Cantor's a rising new leader."
Mr. Gingrich called the week of Limbaugh furor "a deliberate strategy by the White House," specifically citing the "intense partisanship" of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
"I think what they did with the whole Rush Limbaugh thing - they can't defend signing the 9,000 earmarks, they can't defend an energy-tax increase, they can't defend [Treasury Secretary Timothy F.] Geithner's failure to pay his income taxes, so they decide, 'Let's have a fight over Rush Limbaugh.' It is the exact opposite of what the president promised ... to focus on large things, not small things," Mr. Gingrich said.
A poll last week backed Mr. Gingrich, by showing that the claim that Mr. Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party is much more widely shared among Democrats than among Republicans.
When Rasmussen Reports asked 1,000 likely voters Monday and Tuesday whether they agreed with the statement "Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party; He says 'jump,' and they say 'how high,' " just 11 percent of Republicans said they agreed, while 81 percent did not. In contrast, 44 percent of Democrats agreed, against only 41 percent disagreement.
One of the party's two top current elected officials agreed with Mr. Gingrich, saying that "there are a lot of people who want to speak on behalf of our party."
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio also told CBS' "Face the Nation" that "over the course of the next few years, we'll see a lot of people emerge, whether they be governors, members of Congress, those who may be on the outside, who want to take a more active role in our party."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Limbaugh "doesn't play in the Republican Party."
"He's not an elected official," he said, adding that Mr. Limbaugh has tagged him with the moniker "Lindsey Grahamnesty" for his support of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"No, stop talking about Rush Limbaugh at the White House. Work with us to solve housing and banking," he advised the Obama administration during his appearance on "Meet the Press."
Top Democratic operatives have been working for weeks to paint Mr. Limbaugh as the face of the Republican Party - as Republicans search for a new leader following George W. Bush's departure from the White House.
The Obama administration and Mr. Limbaugh, a conservative talk-radio host whose weekday afternoon program is heard on more than 600 radio stations across the country, have been sparring over the last week - some analysts say to their mutual benefit.
Mr. Limbaugh said he hopes Mr. Obama's "socialist" economic policies fail, most prominently while speaking last weekend to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
The comments spurred a rebuttal from Mr. Emanuel, and a call from Republican National Committee Chairman Mr. Steele that Mr. Limbaugh's rhetoric was "incendiary" and "ugly." Mr. Steele later called Mr. Limbaugh to apologize for his remarks.