Readers of the political tea leaves may have missed it, but it appears that the new leadership team of the GOP in exile unofficially assumed control yesterday.
On Sunday’s CBS’ “Face the Nation,” ex-Vice Pres. Dick Cheney endorsed the authoritarian extremist ideology of hate-radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh over the liberal Republican views of his own former secretary of state, Colin Powell. By aligning himself with Limbaugh, Cheney may have put an end to months of public and private infighting and what Beltway observers have described as a circular firing squad among the right’s putative leaders.
Since leaving office in disgrace in January, Cheney has emerged from behind the wall of secrecy, silence and spin where he hid during the eight years he was on the public payroll to become the chief spokesman both for the project to rewrite the history of the Cheney-Bush regime and for the conservative movement, which is in shambles primarily, and paradoxically, because of the ineptitude of the administration Cheney controlled.
At the same time that Cheney has emerged from his famous undisclosed location, Limbaugh has established himself as the movement’s iron-fisted enforcer of ideological purity and punisher of party fatcats who dare to challenge his primacy and movement orthodoxy.
In choosing to align himself with Limbaugh, a drug-addicted draft dodger, Cheney — who himself received five deferments from serving in Vietnam on the basis that he had “other priorities” — rejected Powell, the former Army general and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
[“Face the Nation” host Bob] Schieffer brought up recent banter about the Republican Party’s future: “Rush Limbaugh said the other day that the party would probably be better off if Colin Powell left and just became a Democrat. Colin Powell said Republicans would be better off if they didn’t have Rush Limbaugh out speaking for them. Where do you come down [on this]?”
“Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh, I think,” Cheney replied. “I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
“So you think that he’s not a Republican?”
“I just noted he endorsed the Democratic candidate for president this time, Barack Obama,” Cheney said. “I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interest.”
“And you said you would take Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell.”
“I would, politically.”
If Cheney and Limbaugh are successful in rallying Republicans — now reduced to 21 percent of the electorate, according to recent polls — what do you want to bet there will be calls for them run against Obama in 2012.
They would face challenges, of course. Cheney left office with an astoundingly low 13 percent approval rating. A Gallup poll in February found that public approval of Limbaugh ranged from 60 percent among Republicans to 25 percent among independents and 6 percent among Democrats, aggregating to about 30 percent overall.