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GOP Fights Back Over Criticism of Limbaugh
But, McKinnon said, "whatever you think of Rush, he is one of the most effective political communicators in history. So I don't think turning up his microphone is necessarily a wise way to go." For Obama, he said, "a fistfight with a brawler like Rush only drags him down to the street."
Democratic strategist Chris Lehane called Limbaugh "the perfect foil" because of his popularity with the Republican base. "The media won't cover a fight if it's not perceived as a fair fight. It's a win for the Democrats and Obama, a win for Limbaugh because it enhances his stature with his audience, and probably a loss for the Republican Party."
This is not the first time Limbaugh has bedeviled a Democratic president. In 1994, Bill Clinton lashed out at conservative talk show hosts, saying that Limbaugh "has three hours to say whatever he wants" with "no truth detector." Limbaugh helped galvanize support for the Republican takeover of Congress that year.
After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Clinton attacked "the purveyors of hatred and division" for "reckless speech," prompting Limbaugh to respond that liberals were trying to foment a "national hysteria" and "use this tragedy for their own political gain."
For nearly two decades, the radio host has masterfully inserted himself into political disputes by pushing the usual boundaries. In last year's Democratic primaries, he tried to derail Obama with what he dubbed Operation Chaos, urging his followers to cross over and vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Two former Bill Clinton advisers and CNN commentators, James Carville and Paul Begala, have long targeted Limbaugh. As Politico reported, Carville and Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg commissioned a survey last fall that showed Limbaugh with high negative ratings. Carville and Begala, who are in regular contact with Emanuel, another Clinton White House veteran, have declined to say whether they urged him to single out Limbaugh.
"People are misapprehending that this is some White House strategy they sent Carville and I out on," Begala said. "I don't work for this president. I say what I say because it's what I believe. I don't like Rush."
Emanuel could not suppress a chuckle when asked in an interview why he went after Limbaugh. "I was complimenting him," he said. "But he is the head of their party."