We haven't heard much from Tim Kaine yet since he took over at the DNC, but yesterday's much-publicized back-and-forth between Rush Limbaugh and RNC Chairman Michael Steele gave him a chance to get in the action and mix things up--and to jump on the latest storyline that has Democrats in Washington giddy about its political possibilities: the notion that Rush Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP.
Last night, after Steele told Politico that he hadn't meant to slight Limbaugh by calling him an "entertainer" whose rhetoric could be "incendiary" and "ugly," Kaine issued a statement that Limbaugh is, in fact, the GOP's leader--a notion Steele has had to refute publicly twice in the past three days.
"Chairman Steele's reversal this evening and his apology to Limbaugh proves the unfortunate point that Limbaugh is the leading force behind the Republican Party, its politics and its obstruction of President Obama's agenda in Washington," Kaine said, in a statement issued by the DNC press office last night.
Kaine continued to push the idea today, including the talking point in a statement on new infrastructure projects: "My counterpart at the Republican National Committee proved who is really leading their party -- calling Rush Limbaugh to apologize after courageously criticizing him just this weekend," Kaine said.
Kaine's were the latest in a string of public statements where Democrats have sought to push Limbaugh's incendiarity to prominence: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday that Limbaugh is now the GOP's leader, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs urged cable news hosts to ask Republican guests whether they agreed with Limbaugh's desire for President Obama to fail, and liberal activist group Americans United for Change has begun running a TV ad accusing the GOP of listening to Limbaugh too much.
And it's a message that isn't likely to go away anytime soon, according to one Democratic strategist.
"We're going to keep trying to draw this wedge, because we know that most Republicans in Congress...hanging him [Limbaugh] around their necks, there's not a lot they can do about it," a Democratic strategist told me over the phone today, pointing to Rep. Phil Gingrey's (R-Ga.) apology to Limbaugh in January after criticizing the commentator.
"Rush really represents a polar point in the Republican Party, and I think, again, it is a way to make Republicans have to choose" between his rhetoric and more inclusive, bipartisan politics, the strategist told me.
"Republicans are going to have to answer for every incendiary thing their leader says," a Democratic leadership aide told me. And that seems to be the goal for Democrats: to make Republicans answer for Limbaugh's comments as a voice for the party.
It wasn't that long ago that Democrats were the ones seen as having a unity problem; now, disagreements between Limbaugh and more mainstream Republicans over the "fail" remark (Rep. Eric Cantor, one of the most prominent Republicans in Congress, distanced himself from Limbaugh over the weekend) have given Democrats an opportunity to spread some "disunity" messaging of their own.
By suggesting Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP, Democrats are seizing on a moment of rebuilding for the Republican Party. Since John McCain lost the 2008 election, Republicans don't have a single, widely recognized leader the way Democrats do in Obama. And, in the midst of that rebuilding moment, Democrats are granting a national megaphone to (debatably) the most polarizing voice in the GOP's ranks.
The notion of "Steele vs. Rush" became widespread after Steele's original comment on CNN and Limbaugh's subsequent tirade against the RNC chairman. But it is a "Democrats vs. Rush" dichotomy that Democrats are establishing by promoting Rush as the GOP's de facto leader--a dichotomy that seeks to marginalize Steele and other mainstream Republicans and offer moderates an easier choice between Republicans and Democrats (after all, how many non-conservatives are likely to follow Rush?). That and, as the strategist told me, it offers Republicans a tough choice on where they stand.
Nowadays (meaning Tuesday morning), everyone's a deconstructionist: Democrats are seeking to deconstruct the GOP, and Michael Steele must seek to deconstruct both the "Steele vs. Rush" media narrative and the "Democrats vs. Rush" choice being offered to voters by Democratic messengers.
His statement to Politico began to do so, but that doesn't mean Democrats will stop hammering.