This Rush Limbaugh monologue is a fascinating document, and should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand one of the most powerful conservative narratives emerging around the looming GOP debacle. For Rush, there are only two kinds of people in Republican Party: True conservatives like him, and "moderate Republicans." The latter is an ideologically-inclusive category: You can be pro-choice or pro-life, David Frum or Colin Powell, a Rockefeller Republican or a Sam's Club conservative; indeed, the only real requirement for moderate-Republican status is the belief that the Republican Party needs to reach out to voters who don't agree with, well, Rush Limbaugh on every jot and tittle of what conservatism is and ought to be. And this inclusive definition allows Limbaugh to shape a narrative of the '08 election in which "moderate Republicans" can shoulder more or less all the blame for what's gone wrong:
I wish to reach around and pat myself on the back. Way back during the Republican primaries ... we were told Ty the Republican Party hierarchy that the only chance the Republican Party had (by the way, we were told this also by some of the intellectualoids in our own conservative media) to win was to attract Democrats and moderates; and that the era of Reagan was over, and we had to somehow find a way to become stewards of a Big Government but smarter that gives money away to the Wal-Mart middle class so that they, too, will feel comfortable with us and like us and vote for us.
In that sense, it was said the only opportunity this party has to regain power is John McCain. Only John McCain can get moderates and independents and Democrats to join the Republican Party, "and we can't win," these intellectualoids said, "if that didn't happen." Well, the latest moderate Republican to abandon his party is William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts who today endorsed the Most Merciful Lord Barack Obama. He joins moderate Republican Colin Powell. He joins former Bush press spokesman Scott McClellan. He joins a number of Republicans like Chuck Hagel, Senator from Nebraska ...
Now, I wish to ask all of you influential pseudointellectual conservative media types who have also abandoned McCain and want to go vote for Obama (and you know who you are without my having to mention your name) what happened to your precious theory? What the hell happened to your theory that only John McCain could enlarge this party, that we had to get moderates and independents? How the hell is it that moderate Republicans are fleeing their own party and we are not attracting other moderates and independents?
... When I saw the Weld thing today I smiled and I fired off a note to all my buddies and I said, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! How can this be? How can this be? This is the kind of guy that our candidate was supposed to be attracting, and we were supposed to be getting all these moderates from the Democrat Party," and we will, by the way. We're going to get some rank and file, average American Democrats that are going to vote for McCain. But these hoity-toity bourgeoisie... Well, they're not the bourgeoisie, but... Well, they are in a sense. They're following their own self-interests, so I say fine. They have just admitted that Republican Party "big tent" philosophy didn't work. It was their philosophy; it was their idea. These are the people, once they steered the party to where it is, they are the ones that abandoned it.
The logic is so airtight it's suffocating. John McCain is a moderate Republican. Some people - the party establishment and the "intellectualoids" - said that only someone like McCain would stand a chance of winning the Presidency in 2008, given the state of the GOP brand. But here we are in October, and John McCain is losing - and worse, some of his fellow moderate Republicans are defecting to Obama. Therefore, not only are all the people who urged the GOP to nominate McCain discredited, but so is anybody else who disagrees with Rush Limbaugh about the future direction of the GOP. Moderate Republicanism had its chance this year, and it failed. The big-tent approach was tried and found wanting. Next time, they'll listen to Rush if they want to win. And so forth.
Take a step back, of course, and the whole argument collapses. (McCain's substance-free campaign discredits more reformist visions of conservatism how, exactly? The defection of Bill Weld, blueblood extraordinaire, is supposed to undercut the idea that the GOP should be trying to appeal to middle-class Wal-Mart shoppers? McCain is still going to win the "rank and file, average American Democrats" - it's only the "hoity-toity" types who are jumping ship? etc.) But read quickly (or delivered with Rush's customary brio), it has a certain surface plausibility - just enough, I suspect, to be persuasive to the many, many conservatives eager to be convinced that the '08 outcome had everything to do with John McCain's heresies and the treason of the Beltway elites, and nothing whatsoever to do with them.