Limbaugh on McCain: It's Better to Be Right All the Time

Limbaugh says the media are boosting McCain.
Limbaugh says the media are boosting McCain. (By Bill Pugliano -- Getty Images)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It may be the best sideshow in presidential politics: the nation's top radio talker trying to take down the Republican front-runner in today's Super Tuesday showdown.

Rush Limbaugh has been relentless in his criticism of John McCain, prompting suggestions that he may have to soften his stance if the Arizona senator wins the nomination and faces off against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But if that happens, Limbaugh said in an interview over the weekend, he would rather see the Democrats win the White House.

"If I believe the country will suffer with either Hillary, Obama or McCain, I would just as soon the Democrats take the hit . . . rather than a Republican causing the debacle," he said. "And I would prefer not to have conservative Republicans in the Congress paralyzed by having to support, out of party loyalty, a Republican president who is not conservative."

When it comes to the McCain mutiny, Limbaugh has plenty of company on the right side of the dial. Laura Ingraham endorsed Mitt Romney last week, saying, "There is no way in hell I could pull the lever for John McCain." Sean Hannity, who also endorsed the former Massachusetts governor, regularly rips McCain. Hugh Hewitt is urging the audience for his syndicated radio show to fight for Romney against what he calls a media-generated "McCain resurrection." But with a program heard on 600 stations, including Washington's WMAL, Limbaugh is the loudest and brashest voice inveighing against the man he derides as "Saint John of Arizona."

Limbaugh dismissed the notion that a McCain victory would be a "personal setback" for him. "My success is not defined by who wins elections," he said. "Elected officials come and go. I am here for as long as I wish to stay. . . .

"Yesterday it was Limbaugh vs. [Donovan] McNabb, Limbaugh vs. Michael J. Fox. Before that it was Limbaugh vs. Bill Clinton. Tomorrow it will be Limbaugh vs. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. And I note the media never applies this template to anyone else in media. Not to anyone in cable news, not to any of the endorsements of the major newspapers. Why are the New York Times and Washington Post not asked about the setback they both suffered when George Bush beat both their endorsed candidates in 2000 and 2004?"

Mark McKinnon, a top McCain adviser, called the criticism from Limbaugh and the other hosts "frustrating," saying: "Our question is, 'Isn't it better to get behind a Republican you may disagree with from time to time than work for an outcome that puts a Democrat in the White House with whom you will disagree all of the time?' . . .

"We don't expect Rush to fall in line. We know he's an independent guy, just like McCain. And we know he and McCain will continue to have differences, and we respect those differences."

But McKinnon said he hopes "a respectful relationship can be established" if McCain wins the nomination.

McCain has a history of strained relations with the party's right wing, especially on such issues as immigration, tax cuts and campaign finance reform. Yesterday Limbaugh said the candidate had "stabbed his own party in the back I can't tell you how many times."

McCain's strategists have been quietly reaching out to commentators such as Hannity but don't believe the attacks are costing their candidate many votes, noting that McCain won Florida last week even though Limbaugh broadcasts from Palm Beach. But the campaign yesterday released a letter to Limbaugh from Bob Dole, saying McCain has been a loyal Republican on many issues and that "I proudly wore his POW bracelet bearing his name while he was still a guest at the Hanoi Hilton."

Not all right-leaning hosts are climbing aboard the stop-McCain bandwagon. Bill Bennett, the author and former Reagan administration official, who is neutral in the race, has resisted pressure from his listeners to back another candidate.

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