The numbers are in — Rush Limbaugh has won a dramatic victory over the Democrats. The White House‘s unprecedented assault on the talk-radio host has driven his ratings to number one in many of America’s biggest, most liberal radio markets.
The anti-Limbaugh offensive was a calculated move promoted by Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville to make Rush a new conservative bogeyman, in the same way they stigmatized Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. The strategy was implemented on Jan. 23 when President Obama lectured a gathering of GOP leaders at a meeting discussing his $1 trillion stimulus package, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”
The dig at Limbaugh was instantly taken further by liberal commentators, bloggers and other transmission belts, and was pushed at the highest levels of the Democratic Party. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gratuitously attacked Rush on “Face the Nation,” calling him “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started an online petition against Limbaugh. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fueled the controversy from the White House press room on a daily basis, at one point sarcastically noting that former Vice President Dick Cheney was the second most popular member of the “Republican cabal,” after Limbaugh. James Carville and Paul Begala doggedly pushed the agenda, Carville colorfully stating at one point that Republican leaders “quake at mighty Rush, and he’s the one that’s setting the Republican agenda.”
Politico reported in early March that top Democrats believed they had “struck political gold” by going after Limbaugh, but Rush deftly used the situation to his advantage, noting the irony in the “great unifier” seeking to stigmatize him. He memorably challenged the president to a one-on-one debate on his radio show. “Rush has been able to take this and run,” says radio industry analyst Tom Taylor of Radio-Info.com. Limbaugh warned Democrats that they were “enabling” him, and predicted that the scrap would translate into higher ratings.
The February radio ratings books tell the rest of the story. Brian Maloney’s Radio Equalizer site reports that Rush’s show has surged to number one in the top three radio markets in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. He is also number one in Houston and Detroit, and posted strong gains in such liberal bastions as San Francisco and Washington, D.C. We are reminded of 1992 when the liberal media declared Limbaugh politically dead after Bill Clinton was elected. “NPR is in, Rush Limbaugh is out,” the Washington Post then declared. But in the ensuing years Rush’s listening audience surged to over 20 million.
The left now recognizes that the attack on Rush has turned out to be a massive political misjudgment. Huffington Post commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote that it is time to “raise the white flag” in the Limbaugh war. Gibbs has admitted that baiting Limbaugh was “counterproductive.”
Meanwhile the White House was embarrassed when it was revealed that the White House packed its “online town hall” with political supporters asking softball questions. Prominent Democrats in Congress have groused about the influence of conservative radio voices and threatened to impose a new “fairness doctrine” to drive them from the airwaves. The Obama team has even protested the use of the new, more accurate “portable people meter” Arbitron ratings service.
But talk radio is thriving and ordinary people are now wondering what beef the Democratic Party has with free speech.