The Democratic Party's effort to stick Rush Limbaugh with the "leader of the Republican Party" tag has been successful only inasmuch as Rush has taken his sweet time (weakly) denying the charge. Why have his denials been so rare, so quiet, and so half-hearted? Because he believes it, of course. He loves it. He desperately wants it to be true. He wants RNC big-shots groveling at his feet, Congressmen kissing his ass, and the whole conservative universe dancing at the snap of his fingers. His bombast does a horrible job of concealing his latent insecurity and need for adulation.
In short, Rush wants to be King. He knows what is best for the GOP and everyone in it – for the entire conservative movement in fact. So here's my question: why not make it official? Why not get off his fat ass and run for Congress? Why not challenge Michael Steele for the top slot at the RNC? Why not lead by example and show all these incompetents how to do things correctly? Limbaugh, like Bill O'Reilly, constantly crows about his ratings and his massive popularity. Why do these geniuses not leverage their phenomenal popularity into positions of elected authority?
Mr. Limbaugh is a legal resident of Florida, where there is no state income tax. Florida isn't a lost cause for Republicans, so surely all he'd need to do is throw his name on the ballot to run for Congress and the rest would take care of itself. Or how about that key Senate seat, the open one that Jeb won't run for? Or perhaps Governor, since Charlie Crist is one of those sissy fake Republicans Rush so loathes? Certainly Limbaugh has the finances, the name recognition, and most importantly the popularity he always mentions. So what's stopping him?
This will never happen, of course, because demagogues know that the second they leave their insular circle of sycophants their true level of popularity and influence will be exposed. Imagine how hard it would be to play Self-Anointed Leader of the Right after getting trounced in a Republican primary. Imagine how silly he'd sound doling out advice after losing to a Democratic Senate candidate by 40%. Imagine how embarrassing it would be for the Most Popular Man in America to get 15% of the vote in a real live election.
That's the grand illusion that all demagogues have to be very careful about maintaining. In his own little corner of the world, Rush is King and his legions of Dittoheads are a mighty army. Here in the rest of the world, they're 10% of the population and Rush is a red-faced, drug-addicted bag of fluid. Rush's influence among Republican officeholders is premised entirely on concealing the size of his fan base. If these Congressmen who kiss his ring realized that his audience isn't nearly as big as he thinks it is, that it's an insignificant portion of the overall electorate, well, they might not be so eager to prostrate themselves before Limbaugh's throne. That's why he'll never put his money where his mouth is – it's hard to be an arrogant, self-important know-it-all after getting one's ass delivered on a platter at the ballot box.
(Postscript: Both Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Chris Matthews of MSNBC have claimed they may run for the Senate in 2010, Kudlow against Dodd and Matthews taking on Arlen Specter. Smart money is on both chickening out.)