David Shuster: GOP Members Who Don't Slam Rush 'Appear Unpatriotic'

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" host David Shuster on Wednesday stepped up his attacks on Rush Limbaugh and suggested that if congressional Republicans "align themselves with Rush's statements about wanting the President to fail, they appear unpatriotic." For the second day in a row, Shuster berated a conservative guest about the radio talk show host. He repeatedly encouraged former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to disagree with Limbaugh and complained, "And, Ari, first of all, when Rush says that all Republicans want the President to fail, Limbaugh's wrong, right?" [Audio available here.]

At one point, Shuster wondered why Republicans couldn't just denounce the "childish" comments by the radio host. He then seriously suggested that GOP members should say, "And we need to isolate Rush Limbaugh because we do have important issues to talk about." Later in the segment, the MSNBC anchor reiterated his assertion that Republicans might be unpatriotic. He challenged, "Ari, is it unpatriotic for somebody to say they hope the President fails?" After interrupting a responding Fleischer, he continued, "...Is it unpatriotic- since patriotism was such a crucial theme in the run-up to the Iraq war in the way the Bush White House defended it- is it unpatriotic to say that you hope the President fails?"

A calm Fleischer retorted, "David, I think it's the very nature of our system that people can believe that policies are not going to work. And you should stand on principles if you don't think the policies will work, you should say that."

On Tuesday's program, Shuster talked with Republican Congressman Ron Paul and repeatedly asked the same question: "How can we have that argument [about other issues], when even you, Ron Paul, are not willing to take this opportunity to say when Rush Limbaugh says that every Republican wants President Obama to fail, Rush Limbaugh is wrong?"

A transcript of the March 4 segment, which aired at 6:05pm, follows:

DAVID SHUSTER: As Jonathan pointed out, the White House and its allies have been happy to crown the controversial Limbaugh as king of the Republican Party and quick to call attention to the GOP leaders who kowtow to him. Clearly, many congressional Republicans are now in a tough spot. If they align themselves with Rush's statements about wanting the President to fail, they appear unpatriotic. But, if they criticize Limbaugh, they may face the wrath of the conservative base that listens to Rush. Joining us now to talk about this is Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary to President Bush. And, Ari, first of all, when Rush says that all Republicans want the President to fail, Limbaugh's wrong, right?

ARI FLEISCHER: Well, David, I think this entire issue is nothing but ridiculous. You know, I'm reminded of a president who at his inaugural address said the follow: "We have come to proclaim an end to the recriminations that have strangled our politics." He cited scripture and he said the time has come to set aside childish things. Well, Barack Obama's chief of staff is acting childish and so is everybody else in the Democrat Party who is picking this ridiculous fight at a time when they should be worried about fixing the economy.

SHUSTER: What about Rush Limbaugh, Ari? I mean, But, isn't the easiest way for Republicans to move beyond this is to say-

FLEISCHER: Rush Limbaugh was not elected- Rush Limbaugh was not elected to anything. The President was. And it was the very President who said put aside the childishness. What I think is happening here-

SHUSTER: Then, why are so many Republicans already kowtowing to him? Why did the Republican Party chair feel the need to apologize after first criticizing- why do so many Republicans this week- they have not been able to bring themselves to say, of course, Rush Limbaugh is wrong when he says they want the President to fail. What is it so difficult?

FLEISCHER: It's not the issue and I don't think Republicans should take the bait and talk about whatever Rush Limbaugh has said. Rush Limbaugh is a conservative radio host, a very popular one and I like him. But the issue is the behavior of the President of the United States and his staff. Which Barack Obama is it? Is it the post-partisan Obama? Or the Obama who sends his chief of staff out to act childish? This is the problem Barack Obama has. And he is acting more as a petty partisan instead of a president. This is the issue. These are our leaders. The economy is melting. It's been two weeks and we haven't even gotten the specifics of his banking proposal. Instead, he's reliving the moments, the worst moments of the campaign when we dealt with lipstick on a pig. Is this what Barack Obama wants his presidency to be about?

SHUSTER: Ari, you know politics- Ari, you know politics. You- I mean, wouldn't you acknowledge from a pure political play, that this is the wise White House strategy because you're marginalizing Republicans, you're painting the entire Republican Party, your opposition, painting them as being like Rush limbaugh?

FLEISCHER: This is just as foolish as it was when everybody got into a fuss about lipstick on a pig during the campaign. America is sick of this type of petty politics, and it was started by Barack Obama That's what I cannot get over. He is so different now than the Barack Obama he promised in the inaugural.

SHUSTER: Wait a second, Ari- Ari, wasn't it started by the Bush administration? I mean, I seem to recall during the Bush administration when Republicans had legitimate concerns and complaints about the direction of the war, there was a straw man set up involving General Petraeus. And that straw man was MoveOn.org and you played a pretty crucial role about trying to portray all Democrats as being unpatriotic and against General Petraeus as opposed to being against the strategy.

FLEISCHER: Well, my point was it was the Barack Obama administration that began this whole nonsense about Rush Limbaugh, which is what I thought you wanted to talk about. But, there's always room for differ [sic] with people involved in politics. But, coming from the President? The President's chief of staff to allege a radio host is the leader of the Republican Party? This is the petty nonsense that I don't think anybody expected from a Barack Obama. This is childish.

SHUSTER: Fair point. But, Ari, if it's nonsense and if it's childish, wasn't it nonsense and childish started by Rush Limbaugh?

FLEISCHER: Well, Rush Limbaugh didn't give an inaugural address promising to be somebody different. Rush Limbaugh, like the liberal hosts-

SHUSTER: Aww, come on, Ari! He's got 20 million listeners a day. He's got more power of the conservative listeners than anybody in this country.

FLEISCHER: David- The wings of both parties are entirely entitled to have vociferous voices represent each. That's why they're called wings. And Rush does a great job at it. The President of the United States, though? He's the one in 2004 who said there's not a red America or a blue America, there's one America. But then he doesn't act like it. He is trying to stir up-

SHUSTER: Then, why can't Republicans, Ari, say the same thing? Why can't Republicans say, "You know what, this is childish, ridiculous, Rush Limbaugh is wrong when he says Republicans want the president to fail. And we need to isolate Rush Limbaugh because we do have important issues to talk about?"

FLEISCHER: Because, then, they would be chasing the same childish game that Rahm Emanuel started. And I think it's to Republicans' credit if they have the discipline not to take the question and not to chase the issue. This is about Barack Obama and the manner and style, the tactics he's choosing to govern. Because, he held himself out as something very different and he's being just like all the rest of the politicians in Washington of both parties who came before him. But, that's not what people expected. How can you give an inaugural address saying to move beyond the childish things and let his chief of staff engage in the very childish things?

SHUSTER: Ari, is it unpatriotic for somebody to say they hope the President fails?

FLEISCHER: Patriotic? You know, I think-

SHUSTER: Is it unpatriotic if they say- is it unpatriotic- since patriotism was such a crucial theme in the run-up to the Iraq war in the way the Bush White House defended it- is it unpatriotic to say that you hope the President fails?

FLEISCHER: David, I think it's the very nature of our system that people can believe that policies are not going to work. And you should stand on principles if you don't think the policies will work, you should say that.

SHUSTER: Right, but they can also believe whether it's patriotic or unpatriotic.

FLEISCHER: It doesn't have anything to do with patriotism to say that. I don't think raising taxes and going on a spending spree is going to help the economy.

SHUSTER: But, it was unpatriotic, therefore, to criticize the surge in Iraq and to somehow issue some criticism with the surge and take issue with General Petraeus. That was unpatriotic, but it's not unpatriotic for Rush Limbaugh to say that it's okay for the President to fail.

FLEISCHER: No, what I think you're confusing here is MoveOn.org- What I think you're trying to throw into a Rush Limbaugh/Barack Obama conversation is an ad that Moveon put on that called General Petraeus General Betray Us. Now, they took their lumps for that as they should have taken their lumps for that.

SHUSTER: Right. An ad that Democrats- Here's the difference, Ari. Democrats roundly criticized MoveOn for that ad. I don't think you can find more than one or two Republicans this week who have criticized Rush Limbaugh. I hope the Republicans hope President Obama fails. That's the difference.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think what you're misleading in the statement, Republicans in philosophy believe the president's policies are not going to succeed. But, I can tell you, I want my 201K to be a 401K again. I want the economy to get going.

SHUSTER: It's fine to argue, it's fine to argue- It's fine to argue you think the President's policies are going to fail. It's a different matter when you say you hope the President fails. In any case, Ari, always great sparring with you.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org