- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele on Monday apologized for his comments over the weekend about conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, trying to defuse a feud that he acknowledged had taken his party badly off message.

Mr. Steele, who on Saturday called Mr. Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated show “incendiary” and “ugly,” made an abrupt about-face Monday.

“I respect Rush Limbaugh. He is a national conservative leader, and in no way do I want to diminish his voice,” said Mr. Steele in a statement.

Mr. Limbaugh tore into Mr. Steele during his Monday afternoon broadcast, ridiculing the former Maryland lieutenant governor for wanting support during a run for the U.S. Senate in 2006, and then turning on Mr. Limbaugh later.

“It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do, instead of trying to be some talking-head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off,” Mr. Limbaugh said.

Mr. Steele, the first black man to lead the GOP’s main fundraising and organizing arm, said that Democrats were using his comments, and Mr. Limbaugh’s fiery response, to distract from a “massive $36 billion-a-day spending spree.”

“To the extent that my remarks helped the Democrats in Washington to take the focus, even for one minute, off of their irresponsible expansion of government, I truly apologize,” Mr. Steele said.

His initial comments during a CNN interview were aimed at Mr. Limbaugh’s statement days before Mr. Obama’s inauguration that he hoped the new president would “fail,” a statement he repeated and expanded on Saturday evening during a speech in Washington.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was all too happy to pour gasoline on the fire.

“In watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh’s speech, his notion of presidential failure seemed to be quite popular in the room in which he spoke,” Mr. Gibbs said, echoing comments by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Sunday, when he said the radio-show host was the leader of the Republican Party.

Though Mr. Limbaugh has said his hopes for failure apply to Mr. Obama’s liberal policies, and not to the country itself, he and the White House spent Monday accusing one another of wanting the nation itself to suffer.

“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,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Limbaugh said Mr. Obama and his administration “want you suffering, they want you miserable, they want it worse, they want you rejecting conservatism.”

“They want you rejecting capitalism. They want you turning to them in fear and desperation and angst for an immediate fix to the problem,” he said.

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