The American Spectator
"I hope he fails."
With those famous four words, uttered January 16, 2009 -- only days before Barack Obama was to be inaugurated -- Rush Limbaugh drew a line in the sand.
And as a result, this morning it is Rush Limbaugh who is the undisputed winner of the 2010 election. The White House is repudiated. The Pelosi-run House of Representatives, supported by the Democrats' Congressional Campaign Committee, also deliberately targeted Limbaugh. Speaker Pelosi is, abruptly, now history. The Senate is richer by a still-undetermined number of conservatives as this goes to Internet press.
You might even call last night's landslide results a "Rushslide."
Unlike a number of conservatives and Republican leaders, Limbaugh understood from the moment of Obama's election what the new president and his allies represented: a radical, far-left agenda designed to, in the president-elect's own words, "transform America." Obama and his administration -- with the Pelosi-run House assisting -- were about nothing less than an attempt to re-make America as a collectivist, socialist state.
Characteristically, Limbaugh was fearless in saying so -- plainly. Asked to submit a 400-word essay for the Wall Street Journal on his hopes for the new administration, he responded on the air:
Look, what he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the U.S. government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things… See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, "Oh, you can't do that." Why not? Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?
So I can answer it, four words, "I hope he fails." And that would be the most outrageous thing anybody in this climate could say. Shows you just how far gone we are. Well, I know, I know. I am the last man standing.
The outrage was instantaneous.
Five days later, a bare 24 hours after Obama had been sworn-in, Fox News host and fellow talk radio star Sean Hannity sat down with Limbaugh in Florida. As the Fox cameras rolled, Rush elaborated in answering Hannity's questions, making himself crystal clear: in spite of the uproar created by his "I hope he fails" remark, Rush Limbaugh would not be backing down. The Obama agenda, he was certain, was doomed to inevitable failure, and if others were afraid to say so, Rush Limbaugh was not.
LIMBAUGH:…When I see the media and the entire establishment on the left lay down and become cult-like and not examine who he is, what he's done, and not really examine what he says, but just praise him because of how he says it, my antenna go up.
Now I look at the things that he has said, and I'm very much concerned that our greatness is going to be redefined in such a way that it won't be great, that we're just going to become average. You cannot have this large of government role in the private sector with so many people thinking that just because they're Americans they're entitled to things, that this guy is going to pass them out and keep this country great and innovative, full of entrepreneurs, and -- these things concern me.
Now my critics, and yours, when they hear me say things like this, they -- have knee-jerk reactions. They're not listening or parsing my words, either. They're just, Limbaugh is not with the program.
…. So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far-left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?… I don't know where what he wants to try has worked…. It hasn't worked…. It doesn't work… it never has, and I don't think this is going to be the record breaker."
Hearing this, watching this, the Obama White House made a fateful decision.
As Obama and his aides began relentlessly pushing exactly the far-left agenda that Limbaugh so publicly predicted would fail, they decided to bring the hardball of Chicago politics into play: they would intimidate their opponents by making an example of America's number one conservative talk radio star. .
Which is exactly the point where the path to the conservative victory of 2010 began.
A MERE THREE DAYS after Obama took office, Republican congressional leaders were ushered into the White House for their first formal meeting with the new president. Wary of Obama proposals for a massive stimulus bill, with a huge health care bill looming beyond that, they sat quietly as Obama's Limbaugh strategy began to unfold. Borrowing a tactic from Rules for Radicals, the handbook written by Obama's hero the late Chicago radical community activist Saul Alinsky, Obama the one-time community activist become president lectured the astonished GOP leadership, saying pointedly "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." The Republicans were barely out the door before the story leaked, causing a media feeding frenzy as the White House knew it would.
With that, the stage for the entire next two-years was set. The looming battle over the direction of America would be deliberately, willfully cast -- by the White House itself -- as a battle royal between the President of the United States and Rush Limbaugh. The specific tactic to be employed was Rule Number 12 of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Which reads this way:
RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
The Rule 12 signal was flashed by the White House to every Democrat on Capitol Hill along with every Obama ally in the media: the President personally is going to lead the charge against Rush Limbaugh and he was inviting them to join the fray.
Whatever issue was being debated -- the stimulus, health care, immigration, the topic didn't matter -- Rush Limbaugh was to be the highly personalized target of the Obama White House and all of the American Left. They would freeze his image in the public mind in as unfavorable and polarizing a fashion as they could manage. Then Limbaugh would be assaulted repeatedly in the style of Rule 12 as the next two years unfolded.
An attempt was made to intimidate Rush by going after what Alinskyites called a target's "support network" -- which is to say the Rush Limbaugh radio show was targeted when several liberal activist groups filed a "Petition for Inquiry into Hate Speech in the Media and Request to update report on The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes" with the Federal Communications Commission -- the Obama-run government agency that regulates radio airwaves. Limbaugh was specifically cited by name. The unsubtle message: we are coming after your radio show.
To "isolate the target from sympathy" in Alinsky style, Rush was portrayed in as unflattering personal terms as the Obama allies could conjure up. The attacks were designed to be, as Alinsky stipulated, "cruel… direct… personalized" because "ridicule works."
And so the anti-Rush deluge began.
Having earlier said that it "is my job" to make Obama's presidency work, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who famously said of an Obama speech that "I felt this thrill going up my leg," went to work. He memorably described Rush as "Mr. Big," the villain played by actor Yaphet Kotto in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die, taunting: "In the end they jam a big CO2 pellet in his face and he blew up. I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody's going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he's going to explode like a giant blimp. That day may come. Not yet. But we'll be there to watch. I think he's Mr. Big, I think Yaphet Kotto. Are you watching, Rush?"
"What about this bonehead Rush Limbaugh?" sneered David Letterman on his Late Night show. Newsweek, in the middle of a death spiral that eventually had it being sold by the Washington Post for one dollar plus millions in debt, produced Jonathan Alter sniggering that Rush was a "black-shirted joke" while his colleague Richard Wolffe sagely assured that Rush was an "extreme voice." On and on and on this Alinsky tactic played, with Rush depicted as everything from a "howler" to a man "transformed into [a] car-wrecking quality spectacle" -- both of these from the New York Times. Nor was the Limbaugh audience to escape this treatment, with Jack Cafferty of CNN dismissing some 20 million Americans as "right-wing nuts."
The Obama White House was eating this stuff up, convinced they had a winning strategy.
Politico reported it this way:
Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.
The story went on to say that liberals were lining up to bash Limbaugh as the leader of the conservative opposition.
MOST SPECTACULARLY in terms of last night's results, Pelosi loyalist Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the head of the Democrat's Congressional Campaign Committee, boasted that House Democrats were key players in the anti-Rush strategy. "We helped get the ball rolling on this," bragged Van Hollen. As of last night, Van Hollen had succeeded in losing about 60 House seats to the GOP, a historic loss making Pelosi an ex-Speaker if not an ex-House member period if she decides to resign her San Francisco seat.
All of which is to say, Pelosi and Van Hollen, along with the Obama White House, bet the ranch on a strategy that featured as its centerpiece an attack on Rush Limbaugh. They didn't just lose, they were humiliated.
Also involved in setting this course for Democrats was the George Soros-funded left-wing Center for American Progress, led by ex-Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta. The group jumped aboard, launching an attack against "hate radio host Rush Limbaugh." The liberal group Americans United for Change quickly put up an ad and calling the GOP "The Rush Limbaugh Party." It accused GOP Senators and House members of repeatedly saying "no" to the Obama agenda -- because they were listening to Rush Limbaugh.
Politico also named the names behind this brainchild. Specifically, in addition to the President himself, those who thought this a fabulous strategy were then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod and ex-Clinton aides James Carville and Paul Begala.
It was Begala who would provide some of the high-level reasoning behind the selection of Rush as Obama's Number One opponent.:
But here's the secret: I don't like Rush Limbaugh. Here's the other secret: He is the most powerful person in the Republican Party today, bar none.
Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, meticulously crafted an op-ed for the Washington Post that was titled "Minority Leader Limbaugh."  Plouffe threw down the gauntlet, portraying the battle over Obama's agenda as a one-on-one, mano-a-mano fight to the political death with Rush Limbaugh. The GOP leadership on Capitol Hill was taunted because "Rush Limbaugh has become their leader." Displaying a cocky security that can only come from drinking one's own Kool-Aid, Plouffe depicted Obama as triumphant in the polls of the moment, specifically boasting that "voters trust President Obama on the economy." Listening to Rush Limbaugh, the Obama campaign manager warned Republicans, "hardly seems like the best way out of the political wilderness."
In words that this morning look stunningly stupid, Plouffe said if the GOP kept listening to Limbaugh, the GOP was in danger of permanently losing "independent voters, who give the president high marks on his handling of the economy and his job overall." Said Plouffe of Limbaugh's challenge: "For many Americans, hungry for leadership and cooperation, this sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard…." Seemingly oblivious to the fact that leadership was exactly what Limbaugh was providing to "many Americans hungry for leadership," Plouffe vowed Republican House and Senate members would rue the day they listened to Limbaugh, all voting unanimously -- with the exception of three liberal GOP Senators -- to oppose the Obama stimulus. A stimulus which, insisted Plouffe as he dug himself even deeper, would "create or save at least 3 million jobs." Concluded Obama's campaign manager: if the GOP kept listening to Rush Limbaugh it would force the GOP to "find out what it means for a political party to hit rock bottom."
The gain, said former Speaker Newt Gingrich, would be "the largest one-party gain since 1932." The GOP needed 39-seats to win control. They were headed for at least 60 as this is written.
No word this morning whether Plouffe will be writing a piece entitled "Speaker Limbaugh."
UNDAUNTED EVEN AS THINGS looked bleak, Rush picked up the challenge. He had spent over twenty years discussing conservative principles on his show. A book just released by New York Times Book Editor Sam Tanenhaus was getting liberal media attention. The title: The Death of Conservatism. The author told NPR: "When Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Barack Obama to fail, he was not just spitting out a provocative line, he was actually handing out a kind of marching orders to the right, which they now seem to be following." And listening to what Rush Limbaugh had to say was the death knell for conservatism because Limbaugh, Tanenhaus insisted, was far out in a "fringe orbit".
Limbaugh knew in his bones not only that conservatism was not dead, but that it was neither in need of some sort of political cosmetic surgery as some sunshine conservatives were insisting. And the real people out on a fringe orbit were liberals like Tanenhaus -- not to mention Obama, Pelosi and their media allies. In a January, 2008 monologue about Ronald Reagan and Reagan conservatism, a subject that had arisen in the presidential primaries, Rush had already touched on the subject before Obama was even nominated:
Well, conservatism isn't dead because it cannot be dead. Conservatism is not manmade. Conservatism is a philosophy. It's not a scheme. It's not a plan to figure out what the American people need and want, and then give it to them. That's populism! Conservatism is a philosophy based on God-given natural rights. The Declaration of Independence, is that dead? Of course not! What's dead is leadership on the Republican side, and because there is a lack of leadership of someone who [has] the substantive understanding of liberty and the political skills to advance it, we get all this cockamamie nonsense about the death of our principles. Our principles are not dead! Our principles cannot die.
Now, under direct attack by the President and his House allies, previously scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) Limbaugh showed up to be greeted as the hero of the Obama Resistance. And promptly lit into the Obama agenda. By turns serious, funny, and self-mocking -- he made the case for conservatism with his typical optimistic gusto. "If we're going to convince the American people what's about to happen to them is as disastrous as anything in their lives in peacetime, we're going to have to discuss philosophy with them. We are going to have to talk about principles…" The crowd roared its approval, cheering wildly as he demanded of sunshine conservatives who insisted that conservatism needed to be somehow redefined from Ronald Reagan's principles: "How do you get rid of Reagan from conservatism?"
The very next day White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel appeared on CBS's Face the Nation to proclaim Limbaugh as "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party." It was not meant as a compliment. Once in gear, Obama's notoriously blunt top aide couldn't stop himself, going on to say:
He has laid out his vision, in my view. And he said it clearly. I compliment him for that. He's been very up front and I compliment him for that. He's not hiding. He's asked for President Obama and called for President Obama to fail. That's his view. And that's what he has enunciated. And whenever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood. He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party. He has been up front about what he views and hasn't stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure. He said it and I compliment him for his honesty. But that's their philosophy that is enunciated by Rush Limbaugh and I think that's the wrong philosophy for America.
More tellingly -- particularly in light of the battles to come -- there was a shuffling of some conservative feet. When it came to defending Limbaugh and the timeless conservative principles he (and Reagan before him) had not only championed in both good times and bad for over twenty years, some flinched. To update the famous Thomas Paine reference ("These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.") there were sunshine conservatives who took one look at the rise of Obama and headed for the philosophical hills.
Even as Rush Limbaugh, the leading conservative in the country, was under attack by every conceivable gun in the arsenal of the American Left from the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House on down, there were those who wimped, whistled, or ran.
GOP consultant Mike Murphy went on NBC's Meet the Press the very same day Emanuel was attacking Limbaugh over on CBS to insist:
The country is changing…. And if we don't modernize conservatism, we are going to have a party of 25 percent of the vote going to Limbaugh rallies, joining every applause line, ripping the furniture up, we're going to be in permanent minority status.
None of this was new, of course. Days before Obama's 2008 election, sunshine conservative Ross Douthat, a member in good standing of a species American Spectator founder R. Emmett Tyrrell calls in his book After the Hangover "Reformed Conservatives" (or, more pithily, "the Benedict Arnolds, Backstabbers, Bruti, and Bums" of the conservative movement), took to the liberal pages of the Atlantic to mock Rush's insistence on adhering to principle.
Over at the New York Times, David Brooks stated flatly a few days after Obama's election that it was not a good idea to be listening to conservative "traditionalists" like "Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity" but lamented that's what would happen. And in doing this, said Brooks, "….the Republican Party will probably veer right in the years ahead, and suffer more defeats."
BUT MURPHY, DOUTHAT, AND BROOKS were pikers when it came to former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Handed the cover of Newsweek for a lengthy article titled "Why Rush is Wrong," in a remarkable piece of writing Frum seemed to be an eager participant in a trash-for-cash article that is standard-operating-procedure for sunshine conservatives seeking approval from the liberal media. Frum chose for his venue a failing national news magazine that had traded its own reputation to the far-left in return for a soon-to-be sale by the Washington Post for -- literally - one dollar and millions in debt. The story was not only a Frum version of the personal insult-laden Alinsky strategy, also scolding Reaganites, it repeatedly insisted Rush was a distinct liability to any conservative or Republican victory -- in 2010 or any other election year.
According to Frum, who larded his three-alarm Rush-warnings throughout a piece filled with personal insults that appeared designed to appease the Washington social crowd, Rush Limbaugh was "kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally." If the GOP listened to Limbaugh it would never win women voters who "trust and admire" Obama. Rush's CPAC speech was a terrible liability that was certain to lose votes: "Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word --we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time." It was idiocy to be listening to Limbaugh, as so many conservatives seemed to be doing: "But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership?" And finally, the GOP could not possibly win in 2010 because "Rush Limbaugh is a seriously unpopular figure among the voters that conservatives and Republicans need to reach."
This morning, Rush Limbaugh stands vindicated.
His critics -- whether on the far-left or of the sunshine conservative variety -- have been not simply defeated but routed, humiliated. Independents fled Obama, women fled Obama, the people of Illinois fled Obama. And so on. And so on.
Yesterday wasn't just an ordinary election.
It was a "Rushslide." The latest chapter in the story not just of a conservative ascendancy, but the story of the ongoing conservative majority.
But there is one very important point here.
What Rush Limbaugh's critics have miscalculated is this. As his friend Sean Hannity says, Rush is the Babe Ruth of talk radio. It should never be forgotten that when Babe Ruth stepped onto a baseball diamond -- he was never alone. He had teammates. And the stands at Yankee Stadium and every place else he played were filled with cheering fans.
In the drive to target Rush Limbaugh, millions of Americans -- from fellow talk radio stars to Fox News to the vast audience of average Americans -- listened and watched these White House-directed anti-Limbaugh screeds first with amazement, then a growing incredulity which finally gave way to outrage.
Because all knew at the end of the day that as sure as God made little green apples what began with Rush would end with everyday Americans. You. Your friends. Your neighbors. The barber, the housewife, the independent, the Catholic, Protestant, or Jew and, yes, the law-abiding everyday Muslim. The college student, the entrepreneur, the doctor, the plumber. Americans all -- every one dreaming dreams that somebody in Washington from the President on down was scheming to control, to limit, to regulate, to tax -- and ultimately control to the point of ruin. And sure enough, like clockwork, as the Tea Party burst into existence these average Americans were targeted just as was Rush. Now it wasn't just Rush who was being smeared, the Obama/Pelosi/Reid/liberal media attack machine had turned against these everyday Americans, savaging them as nothing more than a collection of racists, Nazis, and "teabaggers," for resisting their obsession with controlling Americans' every last movement in life while spending the country into trillions of debt as far as the next several generations could see. Americans who had heard Rush predict that the Obama-era would bring an all-out assault on American values realized just short of the nick-of-time not only that he was right, but that it was up to them to stop this assault in its tracks.
And so they did.
Obama, as Rush Limbaugh predicted, has in fact now failed. Nancy Pelosi is out of a job. And thanks to Rush Limbaugh, a new generation of Americans is learning that conservatism is not simply cool -- more importantly they are learning collectivism isn't smart.
But lest there be any doubt, this fight will continue. Not all races were won last night -- not all races will ever be won. Harry Reid is still there. No one in all of American history has won a unanimous election -- with the solitary exception of George Washington. 2012 lies ahead. Fortunately for conservatives, for the Republican Party -- and America -- there is one certainty as this battle continues:
Rush Limbaugh will be on the air.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com.