Obama Presidency

Rush Limbaugh is the King of the GOP; and the King is Dead

| by Reason Foundation

Media pundit Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair is amazed at the shocking return of Rush Limbaugh's importance--but is sure it's a last gasp for a dying king. The rundown:

Rush’s much-vaunted audience of 14 million was down from its high of 20 to 25 million during the Clinton years to closer to cable-TV size. The view at MSNBC was that, on a minute-by-minute basis, Limbaugh’s audience was now no bigger than that of its liberal stars, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.....

But by clever attention getting moves like declaring his desire to see Obama fail, and a crowd-pleasing CPAC speech aired on Fox, this year.

He’d become, second only to the fortunes of the new president, the biggest political story going, one loved equally by right and left. By the right because he so infuriated the left, and by the left because he so discomfited Republican moderates. He was the perfect political lightning rod, polarizing but entertaining too.

But where can he go from here? Not far, Wolff thinks:

The dirty little secret of conservative talk radio is that the average age of listeners is 67 and rising, according to [Air America founder Jon] Sinton—the Fox News audience, likewise, is in its mid-60s: “What sort of continuing power do you have as your audience strokes out?”

You can begin to make plausibly large statements about the end of—or at least a crisis in—conservative media. “There are fewer advertisers, fewer listeners, shrinking networks, shallower penetration,” says Sinton. “A lowering tide lowers all ships.”

What’s more, it’s the Internet that is the fast-growing and arguably more powerful political medium—and it is the province of the young and liberal. The only sensible market view of conservative talk is that it will contract and be reduced, in the coming years, to a much more rarefied format.

So while Rush is rising high as the de facto leader of the opposition, it's likely his last gasp of importance.

“How far will he go? You don’t know what might come out of his mouth. What if he truly goes to war against the leadership? He could, you know, if he wanted to just split the party. Walk out with the hard-core conservatives. He could and he knows it,” said my moderate-Republican interlocutor.

At least he can until the demographic reality catches up with him. “It’s a last hurrah,” says Sinton, “because it isn’t and has never been first and foremost about politics. It’s always been about radio. And that endgame is written.”

I'm not sure I agree with this assessment that Rush is on his last crusade; while his power to actually sway American politics depends largely on how well the American people decide Obama has navigated/mitigated the crisis, Limbaugh's aging crowd does have disproportionate electoral importance, and while "radio" may be dying, the spread of news and entertainment through the human voice over some medium or another still has life in it--I'm sure at least as much life as Rush's corporeal form.

Michael Moynihan from last month on the recent wave of kissing Rush's newly svelte behind amongst GOPsters.