After my recent criticism of talk radio hosts, some wrote me to say, “Why focus attention on these guys? They’re entertainers seeking an audience, and they’re successful at it.” Here is one among the several reasons why it’s worth paying attention to them:
Republicans, out of power and divided over how to get it back, are finding even the most basic questions hard to answer.
Here’s one: Who speaks for the GOP?
The question flummoxes most Americans, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, which is among the reasons for the party’s sagging state and uncertain direction.
A 52% majority of those surveyed couldn’t come up with a name when asked to specify “the main person” who speaks for Republicans today. Of those who could, the top response was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh (13%), followed in order by former vice president Dick Cheney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Former president George W. Bush ranked fifth, at 3%.
Like it or not, Americans regard Rush Limbaugh as the face of the Republican Party, he is able to drive the agenda of the conservative movement, and a lot of people on the right don’t find that problematic. Okay, it is what it is. Mr. Limbaugh isn’t going away anytime soon, and I wouldn’t want him to stop doing his radio program even if I could choose it. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to quietly stand by while Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or Mark Levin jockey to be his successor. Should this be the last time that a talk radio host breaks the 10 percent barrier in a poll like this, the GOP and the conservative movement will be a lot better off, and so will our country, which suffers when its public discourse is largely driven by a medium that rewards bombast, oversimplification, the vilification of political opponents, and engaging paranoid straw men rather than the strongest arguments offered by the other side.
Incidentally, the balance of that USA Today article is pretty poorly executed.