The GOP’s Rush Limbaugh Problem Deepens After His ‘Slut’ Attack
www.thedailybeast.com – By using his mighty megaphone for raunchy name calling, Rush Limbaugh has handed the Democrats a big fat gift.
Whatever the damage to the nation’s top radio talker, he has put a face on the argument that President Obama’s party has been mounting for months—that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” In calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” merely because she testified to Congress in favor of insurance coverage for birth control, Limbaugh has given the Democrats an indelible image to make their case.
“I don’t know any woman in America who finds being called a ‘slut’ funny,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national chairman, told me. She was referring to Limbaugh’s explanation that his attempt at humor had gone awry. “To suggest that in exchange for access to contraception a woman should have to post sex tapes is just so outrageous.”
The Florida congresswoman also took a shot at Mitt Romney for his tepid response to Limbaugh’s three-day assault on Fluke. “The most their frontrunner could bring himself to say is that he wouldn’t have chosen those words,” Wasserman Schultz says. “You have countless candidates quaking in their boots when asked to criticize him.”
A onetime Romney adviser didn’t argue the point. The former Massachusetts governor “didn’t help himself,” says Alex Castellanos, a top strategist for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He had an opportunity to demonstrate strength. He left the bat on his shoulders.” (Romney’s campaign declined to comment.)
But the Obama camp wasted no time in trying to score runs. Shortly after the president called Fluke to commiserate over Limbaugh’s attack, the White House announced he would deliver the commencement address at Barnard College, a prominent women’s school. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi jumped into the fray by calling Fluke on Monday.
With a few incendiary phrases, Limbaugh turned on its head a controversy that had badly burned the administration. Even Vice President Biden says the White House “screwed up” last month by insisting that Catholic organizations cover birth control in their health plans. Despite a subsequent compromise, the misstep allowed the Republican candidates to denounce the president for an assault on religious freedom.
“There are a lot of voters out there who view the Obama position on contraceptive coverage very unfavorably,” says Dan Schnur, a former John McCain adviser who now runs the politics institute at the University of Southern California. “But they don’t want to see a college student beaten up and called names for taking the other side.”
And if Limbaugh, a pillar of the conservative movement for two decades, is weakened by the uproar, so much the better for his liberal antagonists.
El Rushbo continued his damage-control campaign on Monday as more advertisers, including AOL, bailed on his syndicated program, bringing the total to nine. After apologizing to Fluke on his website on Saturday, Limbaugh told listeners on his radio program Monday that those on the left will “say or do anything” to advance their agenda. “But this is the mistake I made: in fighting them on this issue last week, I became like them. That was my error. I became like them. And I feel very badly about that.”
Limbaugh’s show is a huge moneymaker for the more than 600 stations that carry it. So far only one, Hawaii’s KPUA, has dropped him, with the parent company’s president saying Limbaugh had “crossed a line of decency.” Sometimes there is a wildfire effect, as Don Imus learned in 2007 when he lost his radio and cable outlets after calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” (Imus, whose show is now carried on Fox Business Network, called Rush “a fat, gutless, pill-popping loser” who had issued a “lame apology” rather than visiting Fluke.) But toppling Limbaugh, who earns $50 million a year for his enormous reach, would be a different order of magnitude.
It’s one thing for Limbaugh to taunt Obama or to hurl one of his patented insults, “feminazis,” at an entire gender. But Fluke, a mild-mannered woman who has quietly fought back on such venues as the Today show and The View, has proved a telegenic victim.
Michael Harrison, editor of the industry magazine Talkers, says the uproar is overblown. While Limbaugh was “very smart to apologize,” says Harrison, he is “basically an entertainer” who has again drawn enormous attention to himself.
“Just as Rush Limbaugh beating up on Bill Clinton every day did not cause Bob Dole to win, his impact on politics is far less than the media would believe. I don’t believe people are going to blame Romney or Santorum based on the fact that a radio talk-show host called a woman a slut.”