CNN correspondent Carol Costello’s report on Thursday’s "The Situation Room" would have you believe that Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio have "lost influence," and the supposed proof is John McCain’s success up to this point in the Republican race for the presidential nomination.
During the report, which aired at the bottom of the 5 pm Eastern hour, Costello proclaimed that Republican primary voters have "betrayed" conservative talk show hosts, and the evidence that this is the case is John McCain’s primary victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina. She used a sound bite from former Republican Congressman Bob Barr to reenforce her point. Barr opined that McCain’s success is "a sign that no one or two talk show hosts really wield the influence that they did two or three [election] cycles ago."
Costello then brought up the fracture in the Republican Party and gave two possible explanations for it. She first mentioned the supposed theory of the conservative "talkers," who blame McCain for the divide, due to his "covert liberalism." She then juxtaposed this with Bob Barr’s theory that it’s President Bush’s fault that there’s a divide in the GOP.
Another supposed sign of conservative talkers’ "diminishing power" is "John McCain himself," who, according to Costello, is "unfazed" by their criticisms. She also pointed to McCain’s recent appearance on the cover of "Time" magazine.
At the conclusion of her report, Costello repeated an alternate theory for McCain’s success, made by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "Hugh Hewitt believes McCain is doing so well because he's a darling of the liberal media, including CNN.... He believes we've put McCain on top, but thinks Mitt Romney will prevail in the end."
Costello did not mention several details involving McCain’s victories. Both New Hampshire and South Carolina were open primary states where McCain struggled with the Republican vote. In New Hampshire, McCain won less of the primary vote this time around than he did in the 2000 primary, and in South Carolina, much of the conservative vote was split between Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, who has now dropped out of the race.
By ignoring the above and by pointing to "Time" magazine’s coverage of McCain, Costello is actually proving once again that McCain is truly the liberal media’s Republican darling.
Update 22:38 | Matthew Sheffield. For additional commentary on talk radio's influence, please see this Weekly Standard article by Dean Barnett.
The full transcript of Carol Costello’s report from Thursday’s "The Situation Room:"
WOLF BLITZER: Conservative radio hosts talked up a storm back when the Bush Administration was riding high. But now the possibility, possibility that John McCain could become the GOP standard-bearer is almost enough to leave some of them speechless. Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us. So, what's going on, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO: Well, what's going on -- some believe those radio talk show hosts have lost influence, in large part because of who is running in the Republican primary, and who happens to be hot right now.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST: ...so help me God.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: ...so help me God.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Those were the days. Conservative radio talkers bragged their influence helped put George W. Bush in office. How times have changed. Now leading many Republican polls -- John McCain. And those same talkers aren't bragging anymore. Voters have betrayed them, despite what's playing on Rush Limbaugh's show.
(AUDIO OF PARODY OF JOHN MCCAIN SINGING TO THE TUNE OF THE CLASH'S 'SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO')
COSTELLO: The syndicated talkers are fuming.
HUGH HEWITT, TALK SHOW HOST: The anti-conservative is John McCain.... He's a phenomenally weak, sort of second coming of Bob Dole without the charisma.
COSTELLO: But Mr. So-called Charisma-challenged pulled off wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and leads in Florida.
FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN BOB BARR, GEORGIA: I think it is a sign that no one or two talk show hosts really wield the influence that they did two or three cycles ago.
COSTELLO: Because it's a different world in the land of Republican politics -- the party is fractured. Conservative talkers do realize that, but they blame John McCain. They accuse him of being covertly liberal, for working with Democrats on immigration and campaign finance reform. And for voting twice against President Bush's tax cuts.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: I'm a Republican primary voter. I would like to hear some straight talk on those issues. Will I? 'Don't count on it, Limbaugh.'
COSTELLO: But Barr says the fracture came not because of McCain, but because of the man that talkers helped put into office, George W. Bush. Perhaps another sign of these talkers' diminishing power -- John McCain himself. He appears unfazed by them. Asked about Limbaugh...
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA: I know. Oh yeah, he's [a] very influential person.... I'm confident I can secure the base of the party, and win the nomination, and win the election.
COSTELLO: And maybe he can. There he is on the cover of 'Time' magazine as the new 'comeback kid.' The only image likely to drive Limbaugh crazier is if McCain and Mike Huckabee were the 'Time' cover boys.
LIMBAUGH: I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican party, it's going to change it forever, be the end of it.
COSTELLO (on-camera): Hugh Hewitt believes McCain is doing so well because he's a darling of the liberal media, including CNN, says Hewitt. He believes we've put McCain on top, but thinks Mitt Romney will prevail in the end.
BLITZER: We'll get a better clue on Tuesday when they have their contest in Florida. Thanks very much for that. Carol Costello reporting.