Predicting the demise of Rush Limbaugh has always been a foolish proposition. The man is supremely talented and entertaining and has been nothing short of remarkable in holding his position as the pre-eminent radio talk host in the country for nearly 20 years.
I will not predict it either, but I will be surprised if the dynamics of this most unusual campaign don't deliver a hit to his bottom line.
Limbaugh has always been unpopular with large segments of America, but his 20-million-plus listeners came from a reliable core of passionate conservatives. Now however, the GOP is collapsing beneath his feet, riven apart by almost unbelievable incompetence, corruption, and unpopular ideology.
Republicans are angry, and while many long for a return to Reagan-era "fundamentals," a large segment do not recognize their party anymore, and are looking elsewhere. They are leaving, and mark my words, a Barack Obama administration will have every opportunity to capture much of this group for the long term.
Rush, however, is fighting against this current. So many of his core beliefs rest on his contention that Ronald Reagan was a hard-core conservative, that he won two terms, and ergo hard-core conservative ideology will win nearly any election. It is faulty logic on its face, but Republican successes in Congress beginning in 1994 partly obscured its oversimplification, and some of the real reasons for the decade-long conservative ascendancy (I'll save those for some other time).
Limbaugh has always made facts fit his view of the world rather than the other way around. It's what ideologues do. When the facts become increasingly inconvenient, their reasoning becomes all the more labyrinthine to avoid facing internal contradictions.
Another of Rush's core beliefs, without which the raison d'etre of his show would fail, is the liberal bias of the media. The media isn't just liberal, however, they're specifically biased toward the Clintons.
Flipping through caucus coverage last Thursday, I caught Rush on FOX News via phone.
It took me a moment to believe what I was hearing, and I only wish I'd recorded it for quotation. Paraphrasing, he said that all the other media outlets that evening could talk about was Huckabee, Huckabee, Huckabee. Why? Because they couldn't bear to talk about their beloved Hillary losing to Barack Obama.
That's right, he views the idea that outlets are giving more coverage to the Republican winner (which I somehow doubt, by the way) as an example of clear liberal bias. Add the fact that the press almost universally does not much care for Mrs. Clinton's style, and finds Obama a much more compelling storyline, it begs the question of how far gone one has to be to produce such a tortured rationalization.
Limbaugh is fighting not just the potential exodus of significant chunks of Republicans out of the GOP, but also its two most popular presidential candidates: Mike Huckabee and John McCain. They are "too liberal," you see. No matter they have the greatest appeal to the center, Limbaugh is positive that only true conservatives win the day.
Much of what is considered conservative orthodoxy today would come as quite a shock to conservatives of any other generation. The Party will likely need to reinvent itself after the 2008 elections. It's hard to believe Rush won't pay some ratings price as he increasingly becomes a relic of a Republican past that is in a sense fading away, and in another sense never really was.