Newsweek’s Wolffe: Limbaugh Is GOP’s ‘Jeremiah Wright’ Cornering ‘Hate Obama’ Market

On Thursday's Countdown show, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe of Newsweek compared Rush Limbaugh to rapper Sister Souljah and Barack Obama's racist former minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, as Wolffe advised the Republican party to "kill some sacred cows" by denouncing "extremist" Limbaugh. Wolffe: "What they first of all need to do is to kill some sacred cows here. ... for President Clinton, it was Sister Souljah. For President Obama, he had to confront Reverend Wright. This is their Reverend Wright. And unless they deal with extreme voices within their own party, within their own movement, they're not going to reach those independent voters..." And after showing a clip of Limbaugh bouncing up and down on stage at CPAC, host Keith Olbermann cracked that "killer clowns from outer space is less disturbing for children."

On Monday’s show, Wolffe had charged that Limbaugh was trying to "corner the market" on people who "hate" President Obama: "There is a marketplace out there for people who hate this President, and he`s trying to corner it." And on Tuesday’s Countdown, Wolffe seemed to suggest that Limbaugh was "terrorizing" people as Wolffe made a play on President Bush’s "you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists" declaration from September 2001.

After Olbermann had remarked on Tuesday that, regarding reluctance by Republicans to criticize Limbaugh, that it looks like "you`re either for Limbaugh or against the Republicans," Wolffe responded: "It does sound like that first Bush Doctrine, you`re either for them or you`re with the terrorists, I guess. And it`s clear who`s doing the terrorizing here. You have a party that ran no less than four elections on being tougher and stronger than anyone else, and they can`t say ‘boo' to a radio talk show guy?"

Wolffe soon charged that Limbaugh was "hijacking" the Republican party: "And here they don`t have the freedom to say what they really feel, which is that he’s hijacking their party and their message. You know, this is, this is a sorry state of affairs for, for even the Republicans."

Below are complete transcripts of the segments with Wolffe from the Monday, March 2, Tuesday, March 3, and Thursday, March 5, Countdown shows on MSNBC with critical portions in bold:

#From Thursday, March 5:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Not that Democrats are not having fun at the GOP’s expense. I mean, who isn`t? The DNC now running a contest, soliciting ideas on its Web site for the slogan it will put on a billboard near Boss Limbaugh`s home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Ten words or less, please. Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe. Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Nobody in the White House called for President Obama`s failure. Limbaugh did. Nobody in the White House called for, called Limbaugh`s rhetoric ugly or incendiary or both. And yet, the American people are supposed to believe all this is this White House conspiracy by White House operatives?

WOLFFE: Yeah, you know, if only they were that good.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

WOLFFE: There’s no question that Rahm Emanuel tried to stir things up, but if you`re looking for an excuse for why Michael Steele is making a fool of himself, you don`t have to look inside the White House. You don`t have to look for clues to why Congress is being weak by looking at folks inside the White House. They have met, conservative officials and Republican lawmakers have met what is now really the immovable object in conservative politics, and that`s Rush Limbaugh. [OLBERMANN LAUGHS] He has proved that he cannot be moved in any way, shape or form, other than himself moving up and down very quickly. And so, you know, they have, they`ve caught themselves in this problem. It was sustained by their own mistakes. [CLIP OF RUSH LIMBAUGH BOUNCING UP AND DOWN BEHIND THE PODIUM AT CPAC STARTS PLAYING] And they`re looking now at a Republican National Committee chair who is fatally weakened, and this is just the start of the challenges to his authority. And for the sake of children everywhere, we have to stop showing that tape.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, I know. Killer clowns from outer space is less disturbing for children.

Senator Cornyn`s confusion, I mean, it`s just a "to" or a "from," but it seems symbolic here. When in the last month has the White House not wanted specifically to divert attention to the economy and what it`s trying to do to fix it? I mean, it`s as if the Democrats wrote this statement for Cornyn, too.

WOLFFE: Yeah. Look, though, the health care summit today, a serious subject. It could have been about the moral issues about health care. But, actually, they’re only talking about it in economic terms really, the cost to the economy, it`s all about the economy all the time. I just find it incredibly ironic that from the party that brought us Terri Schiavo, "war in the wrong country," oh, "Christmas without Christ," I mean, the idea that everyone else is playing diversionary politics is a little bit rich.

OLBERMANN: But, as always, and we’ve talked about this several times already, the key to diversionary politics or the exploitation of political silliness is knowing when is exactly the right moment to give it up, when is not too soon and when is not too late. How much more shelf life does this whole thing have from the Democratic point of view?

WOLFFE: Well, I think it would be a real mistake for Democrats to try and push this any further. You don`t need to actually pull the trigger when the other side has got a circular firing squad. So, in terms of the tactics, I think it`s had its full impact. And Rush Limbaugh now has this unrivaled position in terms of what the public associates with conservatives and Republicans right now. In that sense, the White House should get out while it`s ahead – if, of course, the White House is pulling all the strings.

OLBERMANN: Of course, the Republicans could also get out of this by themselves. Both participants in something like this can if they want to. But you have to have an alternate. You have to have something to replace those headlines with headlines of your own choice. Does the GOP have a plan B to go to or is this what they’re left talking about?

WOLFFE: Well, what they first of all need to do is to kill some sacred cows here. I mean, that was what actually Michael Steele was there for, and that`s why taking on Rush Limbaugh would have been an impressive statement of where the party now stands. I mean, you know, for President Clinton, it was Sister Souljah. For President Obama, he had to confront Reverend Wright. This is their Reverend Wright. And unless they deal with extreme voices within their own party, within their own movement, they`re not going to reach those independent voters who put President Obama over the top. So, yes, they have to come up with an agenda. But they also need to deal with these cultural questions. Are they a party that anyone can vote for without holding their nose?

OLBERMANN: Yes. If it`s Michael Steele doing all that, it will also be one of the great comebacks in political history. It would be Richard Nixonian, at that kind of level. MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe. Great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

#From Tuesday, March 3:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Time now to call on our own political analyst Richard Wolffe. Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: One day, apparently Republicans can`t or are not allowed to oppose Boss Limbaugh for a period of longer than one day. Is it actually this case now: You`re either for Limbaugh or against the Republicans?

WOLFFE: Yeah, it does sound like that first Bush Doctrine, you`re either for them or you`re with the terrorists, I guess. And it`s clear who`s doing the terrorizing here. You have a party that ran no less than four elections on being tougher and stronger than anyone else, and they can`t say "boo" to a radio talk show guy? It`s surprising that elected officials are in this quandary and they have put themselves into it. You know, this is a guy who, apart from bouncing up and down, celebrates his liberty and freedom and all the other things that are in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence or whatever it was. And here they don`t have the freedom to say what they really feel, which is that he’s hijacking their party and their message. You know, this is, this is a sorry state of affairs for, for even the Republicans.

OLBERMANN: To the degree that, and we can speculate as to how it would sound to hear somebody say, how can you stand up to al-Qaeda if you can`t stand up to Rush Limbaugh? But the Republican whip, Eric Cantor, his office would not answer the question today of whether he now stands with Limbaugh or stands against him, and it was Cantor who, a year and a half ago, created a Web site called StandWithRush.com. There are two really heavy issues here for people like Cantor, aren`t there? I mean, he`s got this large figure in the Republican Party versus this new number about Obama`s approval, which just keeps going up the more that the far-right rants against him. It`s, how do they get out of this situation?

WOLFFE: Well, they do need to actually have a semi-courageous moment and say enough already. He isn`t actually a leader of the party. He`s not an elected official. And, look, to draw a comparison, people have said, Democrats are trying to do to Limbaugh what Republicans did to Michael Moore. There were no Democrats, as far as I can remember, who were saying they stood with Michael Moore and put up Web sites like that. They never described Michael Moore as a leader in the party. And the problem is, they have elevated this guy, who is looking for an audience, there is a commercial motive behind this, to this ideological position. He is not the solution to their problems. They need to reach out to the independent voters in places like suburban Richmond, which is in Eric Cantor`s district, who voted for Obama. Those are the kinds of people they need to reach, and they`re not going to reach them through Rush Limbaugh.

OLBERMANN: Those are the people who decided that last election. We discussed last night that, obviously, the White House, to some degree, provoked or took advantage of the opportunity to seize this uncivil war inside the GOP that had begun and seems to be beginning. Is there a Democratic endgame to this? I mean, presumably, if Limbaugh is not running things, he will be mad at the actual Republican politicians who are running things. But if Limbaugh is running things, doesn`t that mean Obama basically hasn`t failed? Or is the point of all of this from the Democratic point of view, not which side wins a Republican war but just that there be a Republican war in progress at all times?

WOLFFE: Well, that`s exactly the point. This is a party that obviously is going through several stages of grief, and they’re somewhere between anger and denial right now. And, I’m just hoping the guilt phase comes in pretty soon. Look, they need to figure out what the direction is. This is a sideshow. And when, when Rahm Emanuel went on the Sunday talk shows and said Rush was the leader of the party, I scratched my head. They have just proved him right, and it`s a monumental blunder for the Republican leadership.

OLBERMANN: Yes, fairly masterful on Mr. Emanuel`s part. MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe. As always, Richard, great thanks. Have a good night.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

#From Monday, March 2:

KEITH OLBERMANN: The denouement, tonight, Mr. Steele`s office says the chairman reached out to talk to Limbaugh, but nobody is saying whether or not he succeeded, Steele saying he wants Limbaugh to know he meant no offense, that he went back at that tape and realized, "Words that I said weren`t what I was thinking. I`m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh." As my old fried, the late great Chick Hearn used to say, "He`s already in the popcorn machine with butter and salt all over him." Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe. Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Did the President just play the GOP into this? Did he just cause its chairman and its loudest mouth to rip each other? Or is that too Machiavellian to be possible?

WOLFFE: Machiavelli was foreign, wasn`t he? [OLBERMANN LAUGHS] Look, this is not too Machiavellian. In fact, what is surprising is how well and how quickly it`s worked. It`s a playbook that is incredibly familiar. If you cast your mind back all the way back to the Bush era, you’d find Republicans doing the same thing to Democrats. They tried to define them as Move On or Daily Kos, or as Rush Limbaugh was just trying to do, as Pelosi and Reid. The problem is, you’ve got to pick a face that is pretty unacceptable, and Rush Limbaugh has a striking face, which is totally unacceptable to independent voters, the people who put President Obama over the top in Indiana and North Carolina, they find him to be a turnoff, and if you can define the Republican Party as Rush Limbaugh, then you’re really laying the groundwork for this ongoing civil war for the next couple of years.

OLBERMANN: But the last 60 years of American political civil war is littered with politicians who went after the media or specific people in the media, as you suggest. Joe McCarthy versus Edward R. Murrow, Richard Nixon versus Dan Rather, Spiro Agnew versus everybody, but each of those, each one of those was a frontal attack. This is something different, isn`t it? A divide-and-conquer thing, you go after the vanities of everybody on one side of the political spectrum in hopes of getting them to do the attacking for you. There`s a brilliance to this that I don`t know that we`ve seen before.

WOLFFE: Well, it`s divide-and-conquer and there`s certainly enough vanity to go around here. But Rush Limbaugh isn`t just a member of the media, he is a political force and has been used as such. He’s one of the four walls of the Republican echo chamber. He may be two, you know. He`s that big. [OLBERMANN LAUGHS] The problem here for the Republicans is that if it was just a member of the media, there would be no conflict. It would be easy to throw him over the board, although that`s an image I wish I hadn`t risen. But what you have here is someone who is a very effective channel for mobilizing the base, so it`s incredibly difficult to go out and attack him.

OLBERMANN: But, apology or not, Steele just cut Limbaugh, Eric Cantor just cut Limbaugh, and that`s two years ago that Cantor sent out this fund- raising letter that said, "I stand with Rush." He even created a Web site called that. Could it be dawning on Limbaugh here that possibly, Republican politicians have been, you know, using him as opposed to actually worshiping him?

WOLFFE: I suspect it`s dawning on Limbaugh that his audience is more loyal to him than Cantor`s is to himself. And so, look, his numbers, I expect they`re going to go through the roof after all of this. He`s been attacked by the Obama White House. There is a marketplace out there for people who hate this President, and he`s trying to corner it. The question for Republicans is: Where does it leave their debate about their identity and their values and what they stand for? Does the Limbaugh agenda have any resonance anymore? Or: Do they not have just to disassociate themselves from him but everything he talks about? That`s the difficult challenge, and that`s where the sort of brilliance of this strategy comes into play. It`s not about Limbaugh; it`s what do the Republican politicians have to do?

OLBERMANN: MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe. It`s fascinating. As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.