Brilliant analysis, as usual, on the Limbaugh dust-up from FiveThirtyEight. Money quotes:
Don't kid yourself. While L'Affaire Limbaugh is incredibly entertaining political theater – among others, it dominated Matthews, Cooper, Olbermann, Maddow and Jon Stewart last night – the tactic has a calculated purpose and an immediate context: votes on the budget bill. Soon enough, it'll be votes on health care legislation. There are really only three attendees at this play.
Senators Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins.
(A fourth might be Sen. George Voinovich, whose state gets a visit this Friday when Barack Obama travels to Columbus.)
Upcoming legislative fights are expected to be brutal, tougher than the stimulus bill. The votes of Specter, Snowe and Collins, critical for passage of the stimulus, are still considered the first gettable Republican votes. The spectacle of Limbaugh as Republican-in-Chief sucks all the oxygen from the room when these moderate Republican senators may want cover for any potential "no" vote – or "no" leverage in negotiations.
Without any Republican willing to stand up to Limbaugh, there's no middle ground between him and Obama, and nowhere to hide for the few moderate Senate Republicans Obama needs. Ultimately, this tactic is about the votes this year, the ones that will make or break the Obama presidency. If successful health care legislation is passed because Arlen Specter votes for it, Obama is willing to trade off a few more bucks in Limbaugh's pocket.
So, not only does this flap give the Dems a TON of opportunity to contrast themselves with a thoroughly unlikeable blow hard, they also get to put out a warning to the few remaining sane Republicans in Congress: do you really want to be associated with these assholes?