'Today' Blames Limbaugh for GOP 'All-Time Low'

According to the Politico Democratic strategists, months ago, planned to paint Rush Limbaugh as a bad guy to hurt the GOP and on Wednesday, the "Today" show followed that blueprint as Matt Lauer pilloried RNC Chairman Michael Steele over his flap with the talk show host:

Doesn't Rush Limbaugh put people like you in a very tough position? If you agree with him publicly it sounds like you're rooting against the economic recovery and yet if you disagree with him and call him an "entertainer" and say he's provocative and sometimes what he says is "ugly," you're put in the position where you gotta run and apologize to him.

Lauer repeatedly misinterpreted Limbaugh's comment that he wants Obama's to fail, never clarifying that Limbaugh is rooting against his policies precisely because they will hurt the economy as Lauer presented the false choice of, you're for Obama or you're against the economic recovery, to Steele:

Mr. Steele, let me try it this way, there are as many Republicans out there as well as Democrats who are unemployed right now. People are hurting across this country. Republicans, as I mention, like Democrats are losing their homes, they're unable to send their kids to school. Do you think those Republicans want the policies of Barack Obama to fail right now?

Lauer began the "Today" show this morning by greeted viewers with news that the GOP was in dire trouble due to Limbaugh:

Good morning. Who's the boss? The GOP facing a major image problem. Its leaders quick to attack controversial comments made by Rush Limbaugh and even quicker to apologize to him, as our new poll shows the party's rating has sunk to a new all-time low. What's going on and how will they turn things around? We'll ask RNC chairman Michael Steele.

After Lauer noted a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows: "Only 26 percent of voters have positive feelings toward the party. That's an all-time low," NBC's political director Chuck Todd came on to discuss the GOP's unpopularity with a report headlined with the graphic: "Republican Rumble, GOP Infighting Hurts Party Support," and relayed that, "The White House is borderline giddy about the entire episode," between Steele and Limbaugh.

The following is a complete transcript of the intro, Todd set-up piece and then full interview with Steele as it was aired on the March 4, "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: Good morning. Who's the boss? The GOP facing a major image problem. Its leaders quick to attack controversial comments made by Rush Limbaugh and even quicker to apologize to him, as our new poll shows the party's rating has sunk to a new all-time low. What's going on and how will they turn things around? We'll ask RNC chairman Michael Steele.

...

MEREDITH VIEIRA: No secret the Republican Party is in turmoil right now and there are new poll numbers out this morning that show that voters basically feel the same way.

MATT LAUER: That's right. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that only 26 percent of voters have positive feelings toward the party. That's an all-time low. Then there's the ongoing debate over conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh and the power and influence he has over Republican voters. RNC chairman Michael Steele got into it with the talk show host this week before, later apologizing to him. We're gonna talk to him about that and the future of the GOP coming up in a live interview in just a couple of minutes.

...

MATT LAUER: But first to the state of the Republican Party. Chuck Todd is NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent. Chuck, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Republican Rumble, GOP Infighting Hurts Party Support"]

CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Matt. Well, you know, after two straight election drubbings, the Republicans are hoping that this might finally be bottom. Just six weeks after being reduced to the role of a weak opposition party, the Republicans continue to sink. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans have seen what was an already all-time low rating in December drop even lower. Just before President Bush's re-election in 2004, almost half the country had a positive feeling toward the Republicans. That number is just 26 percent today. Republican pollster Bill McInturff, though, sees a silver lining.

BILL MCINTURFF: You can't start the building until you hit the bottom. So, one piece of happy news is, believe me, this is it. We're going up from here.

TODD: And as President Obama enjoys high approval ratings, 68 percent have positive personal feelings for the new president and a clear majority have confidence in his policies, that popularity is rubbing off on the Democratic Party. Nearly half of those surveyed believe Democrats will do a better job of pulling the country out of the recession. That number is just 20 percent for the Republicans. Compounding the party's dismal poll ratings, Republicans are fighting among themselves.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What is so strange about being honest in saying I want Barack Obama to fail?

TODD: An intraparty feud broke out this week between Republican chairman Michael Steele and talk radio mogul Rush Limbaugh.

MICHAEL STEELE: Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh his, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes it's incendiary, yes, it's, it's ugly.

LIMBAUGH: When I go out there and quote, unquote, "do the dirty work," they try to cut me off at the knees. They're opposed to the Obama agenda too. They are just too gutless to say so.

TODD: Steele has since apologized. And the White House is borderline giddy about the entire episode.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was a little surprised at the speed in which Mr. Steele, the head of the RNC apologized to the head of Republican Party.

TODD OVER LAUGHTER IN THE STUDIO: Well Matt there is a little bit of good news. It's still 608 days until the next election. So they do have some time to get it together. But it's been a tough start.

LAUER: Don't put the clock on already, alright Chuck?

TODD: Hey c'mon it's the political director part of my title that I love.

LAUER: That's your job. Chuck thanks very much. Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Mr. Steele it's good to have you here.

MICHAEL STEELE: It's great to be with you Matt. How are you doing?

LAUER: I'm, I'm good. Thanks. You had this job now for little more than a month and already you are in the white hot spotlight.

MICHAEL STEELE: Yeah.

LAUER: You found yourself in a back and forth with one of the-

STEELE: Yeah.

LAUER: -the conservative voices of your party, Rush Limbaugh. So let me get right to that. Rush Limbaugh says it very bluntly, "I want him to fail." Referring to Barack Obama. Do you agree with that?

STEELE: Look my job is to build my party after, after a tough two election cycles. My job is to try to craft a message for our party and work with the Senate and the House leadership to work with our governors across the country and build us back. I mean, you've seen the numbers. We're at 26 percent. I've got to try to rebuild the, the front and the back and the top and the bottom of this party and that's what I'm going to do.

LAUER: But let me ask you, but let me ask you as you try to rebuild it. Go ahead.

STEELE: And so, let me, now let me just make my point. My point is that there are lot of opinions out there. Some come from people who are notable, some from people who are not so notable. And my job is to try to balance that. I wasn't that effective at it this week but you know I've been 30 days on the job and we'll get, you know we'll move forward. And I, that's what I'm about at this point.

LAUER: I guess, but I'm asking your personal opinion. Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh when he says, it's common sense that as a conservative he wants the policies of Barack Obama to fail?

STEELE: Well my personal opinion doesn't matter in this. My pers-, my job as the RNC chairman is to take into account all the various views out there within our party and, and try to put together a strategy and a team that's gonna help us win elections. I'm focused on the, the 20th congressional district in New York. I'm focused on gubernatorial races in New Jersey and, and, and Virginia. So we've got a lot of work to do. The polls show it. I mean I'm not surprised by that poll. I mean we got a drubbing in the last two elections. So we've got a lot of building to do and along the way they'll be some hiccups. We'll get through the hiccups and keep going.

LAUER: It seems as though Mr. Limbaugh is taunting Republicans like you though, saying, "Look they all agree with me, they're just too gutless to say it." Doesn't, doesn't Rush Limbaugh put people like you in a very tough position? If you agree with him publicly it sounds like you're rooting against the economic recovery and yet if you disagree with him and call him an "entertainer" and say he's provocative and sometimes what he says is "ugly," you're put in the position where you gotta run and apologize to him.

STEELE: Look, that's the nature of this job, baby. Everyone puts you in one position or the other, and you just have to work through it and keep focused on your mission. My mission right now is to tell the American people what's happening to their wallets and explain to them in real terms the cost of this, of this stimulus package, the cost of the excessive spending. And along the way, my opponents, Democrats and even a few others out there, will try to mix us up and get us off track, but my goal is to stay focused on trying to get us in a direction where we can win and have something important to say to the American people.

LAUER: Right.

STEELE: This is a great sideshow distraction. You know there's a lot of popcorn going around for, for folks who are watching this and enjoying it. But I've got to try to stay focused on trying to put a message-

LAUER: Let me-

STEELE: -out there that's gonna move us forward.

LAUER: Mr. Steele, let me try it this way, there are as many Republicans out there as well as Democrats who are unemployed right now. People are hurting across this country. Republicans, as I mention, like Democrats are losing their homes, they're unable to send their kids to school. Do you think those Republicans want the policies of Barack Obama to fail right now?

STEELE: I don't think the, I don't think that Republicans, Democrats or independents or anyone wants policies that redistributes the wealth of this country, wants policies that nationalizes our health care and our financial systems, wants policies that are pushing us in the direction in which we are more dependent on government than focusing on how we energize small businesses, get credit and, and capital flowing into the markets again. So, those people who actually create the wealth, those people who will employ the folks who've just lost their jobs, Republicans, independents and Democrats alike, can do that, and that's the small businesses of this country.

LAUER: Right.

STEELE: That's what I'm trying to get done. And you know, this has been a great little distraction. That was yesterday's news. Let's move forward. I've been in the job 30 days, and as, as the political director said, I've got 608 more days to go, so-

LAUER: There are a lot, there are a lot of commentators out there, Mr. Steele, who say that Republicans have found their voice on this issue and standing up in opposition to the economic policies of Barack Obama, but without control of the House, the Senate or the White House, how are you gonna use that voice to say something other than no?

STEELE: Well that's, you know Matt, that's a very good question, and it's one of the challenges that is presented to the minority party is to, is to get heard. And I think that, you know, some of the things that we've been trying to, to draw out there talking and focusing on the impact of the stimulus bills. You know within this stimulus package, in this omnibus bill, for example, you're talking about 122 federal accounts that double dip, that are taking from the pot twice. That increases the costs. Little things that make a big difference for people are what we're trying to get conveyed. I know the Senate and House leadership have put together packages on housing, put together packages on the economy as a whole, and the problem is getting the Democrats who talk about bipartisanship to actually take those policies and try to integrate them into what the President's agenda is.

LAUER: Alright.

STEELE: That hasn't happened yet, and we're gonna keep pushing and trying to make as much noise as we can in a positive direction.

LAUER: Alright Michael Steele. You having fun in this job?

STEELE: I am actually. You know it's been a crazy 30 days. There's no doubt about that. But we're building slowly. Let's see where we are in 30 or 60 or 90 days from now. I think we'll be making a difference Matt, I really do.

LAUER: You have, you have an open invitation to come back in 30, 60, or 90 days. We'd like to have you here and thanks for spending time with us this morning.

STEELE: You got it bud. I'm looking forward to it.

LAUER: Alright, great.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.