In this morning's New York Times, David Brooks makes the following two points:
Over the years, I have asked many politicians what happens when Limbaugh and his colleagues attack. The story is always the same. Hundreds of calls come in. The receptionists are miserable. But the numbers back home do not move. There is no effect on the favorability rating or the re-election prospects. In the media world, he is a giant. In the real world, he's not.
The Republican Party is unpopular because it's more interested in pleasing Rush's ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer's niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician's coalition-building strategy.
Now -- Brooks cites empirical evidence to back up the claim that Rush Limbaugh's attempt to sabotage Hillary Clinton in the primaries didn't work very well. But he offers only assertions about the underlying premise. The contradiction is obvious: why, if Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck represent niche audiences that create noise but don't move the dials -- why, if Republicans know this -- and presumably, GOP strategists know this, and even accounting for the cynical possibility that strategists know they can earn a living by running candidates to the right -- why are Republicans beholden to this wing of the party? Brooks surmises that the GOP leadership is bamboozeled.
But the proposition that Brooks dismisses is arguable. Limbaugh and Beck may not represent a set of issue positions as much as an attitude about politics, one that is very common to Republican base voters, and one that, thanks to the contingencies of geography, demography, campaign finance rules and Congressional morays -- must be embraced by GOPers in most of the country in order to keep their seats. It is undoubtedly true that there is no Beck or Limbaugh "majority" -- and that the loudest voices on the right are those that tend to vote anyway -- objects in the mirror are farther away than it's supposed. I know that Limbaugh's GOP and Beck's GOP -- although Beck is really best described as a conservative who doesn't like the GOP -- is not Brooks's GOP. But it's the GOP distilled to its essence. And it's one reason why, midterm gains next year notwithstanding, Republicans must incorporate these elements into whatever coalition it builds for the future.
Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.