Is Rush Limbaugh damaging the Republican Party?

Before Rush Limbaugh spoke up, the Republicans thought they had a winning issue on contraception in health-care plans. Now, everyone is on the same side: against Rush Limbaugh. 

C-SPAN/AP
Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University law student, testifies to Congress in Washington in this file photo from last month. Rush Limbaugh drew fire Friday for his depiction of Fluke as a 'slut' because she testified before Congress about the need for contraceptive coverage.

Is Rush Limbaugh damaging the Republican Party? On Friday Limbaugh drew withering criticism from all colors of the political spectrum for his comment that Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke is “slut” and a “prostitute” for testifying in favor of mandatory coverage of contraception in employer-provided health insurance.

National Republican Senatorial Committee vice-chairman Carly Fiorina called the talk show host/provocateur’s language “insulting,” “incendiary,” and “a distraction.” House Speaker John Boehner called the words “inappropriate,” while also hitting Democrats for trying to raise money off the issue.

President Obama called Ms. Fluke in support, while the president of Georgetown University sent an e-mail to all the school’s students that said Mr. Limbaugh’s words were “misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”

In short, Limbaugh at least for the moment appears to have taken a complicated issue on the beliefs of religious groups versus the powers of government and reduced it to a discussion of schoolyard epithets.

“Yesterday’s topic: legitimate rights of [Roman Catholic] church. Today’s topic: calling women ‘sluts.’ Good job Rush,” tweeted David Frum, a journalist and self-described conservative Republican who at times has jousted with his party’s right wing.

Limbaugh himself remains unapologetic for his comments. On his radio show Friday he said, “This isn’t about contraception anyway. This is about expanding the reach and power of government into your womb, if you’re a woman.”

Meanwhile, opponents flooded the web and Twitter with comments aimed at getting advertisers on Limbaugh’s show to pull their support. At least two firms, mattress companies Sleep Train and Sleep Number, said they would do so.

Mr. Obama’s phone call to Fluke further escalated the public visibility of the controversy. Having made clear where his sympathies are in the matter, Obama may force GOP rivals to make their own statements on the issue. Indeed, it’s possible Democrats are gleeful about what they consider Limbaugh’s rhetorical overreaching.

“Reporters now have just the hook they need to ask Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for comment on Rush’s remarks,” noted liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent today on his Plum Line blog.

Others on the left charged that Republicans were now reaping the results of inviting shock-jock hosts such as Limbaugh into the inner circle, in essence. At Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum opined in a post titled “Has Right Wing Media Become an Albatross for the Right Wing?”

Limbaugh “plumbed some new depths of loathsomeness” with his comments, said Mr. Drum.

Even some of Limbaugh’s defenders did not defend Limbaugh's choice of words. Over at the conservative RedState site, editor Erik Erickson wrote that, “Well of course Rush Limbaugh was being insulting. It is not something I would do and I do think we’re going to now be focused on what he said for a while and that it will be a distraction from the central argument.”

This central argument, according to Mr. Erickson, is that the Obama administration wants to force taxpayers to foot the bill for couples’ contraception by forcing health insurers to include it in coverage.

“So of course Rush Limbaugh was being insulting,” writes Erickson. “He was using it as a tool to highlight just how absurd the Democrats’ position is on this.”

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