Rahm Emanuel — President Obama’s chief of staff, and the Emanuel brother with the really cool if relatively low-paying job — exhibited himself to be a master PR tactician this week, given the fallout from his remarks about radio personality Rush Limbaugh.
Interviewed on “Face the Nation,” Emanuel characterized Limbaugh as “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party,”adding in regard to Limbaugh’s criticism of the new president: “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.”
Emanuel thus shrewdly set up an internal conflict in the Republican Party, given that the only constituency Limbaugh has to answer to is his vast radio audience, which loves it when he does impolitic things like refer to the White House press corps as “butt boys” and feminists as “feminazis.” Such colorful commentary led new GOP chairman Michael Steele to refer to Limbaugh (accurately) as an “entertainer,” while going further to label some of his remarks “ugly” and “incendiary.” Steele later apologized, but not before cable news had a field day with what amounted to this intramural skirmish.
For Limbaugh, of course, this is all good news, and he sounded not-so-secretly delighted at being the center of attention on such a vast stage during his radio show Tuesday. Lacking other identifiable big-name Republicans to lampoon, David Letterman called Limbaugh a “bonehead” on Monday night, while Jimmy Fallon joked that Limbaugh wanted his new show to fail, too. (It’s still early for Fallon, but in terms of the premiere, he got his wish on that one.)
Limbaugh is undoubtedly the loudest conservative voice out there right now, and Sean Hannity probably ranks second. But Limbaugh is an entertainer, which is liberating for him but also perilous for politicians drawn into his orbit. They’re concerned about broadening their base; Limbaugh — sitting on a $400 million syndication deal — need only satisfy his existing one.
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the intellectual tool shed, but after defending Limbaugh he did acknowledge the strategic savvy behind zeroing in on the radio titan in his latest Los Angeles Times column, noting, “Limbaugh and other right-wing talkers are popular with a third of the country. Fairly or not, they turn off moderates and self-described independents.”
Bottom line: If Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel had just played other talent agencies as deftly as his brother manipulated the Republicans, CAA, WMA and UTA would all be having a really bad week.