CNN's "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News" indeed broke news this weekend, when Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told Hughley that Rush Limbaugh is not the head of the Republican party, but merely an "entertainer" -- and went on to call Limbaugh's anti-Obama rhetoric "incendiary" and "ugly."
Strong words from the new RNC chair, the party's first African-American leader -- but they didn't stand long. After Limbaugh attacked Steele this afternoon on his radio show -- "It's time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of being some talking-head media star" -- Steele apologized. "My intent was not to go after Rush -- I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele told Politico's Mike Allen. "I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people… want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not."
I emailed D.L. Hughey to get his perspective on Steele's sudden change of heart, but he may wait for his show to give his reply. What's clear is that Hughley and Steele had a long, animated conversation in which Steele argued convincingly and forcefully that Limbaugh is not the party's leader, he's an entertainer, and his views are getting entirely too much attention as the party tries to right itself after its thumping in November. It's just not the sort of conversation in which you can disavow certain "words" or say "I was thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently." It was a long conversation, not a soundbite.
But there's a pattern here. In January, Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey criticized Limbaugh, and then had to call into his show and grovel his apologies before the man he called a "giant" of conservatism (the giant part is true; even Pat Buchanan marvelled on MSNBC today at how much weight the sweaty, hopped-up Limbaugh has gained recently.) Apparently party leaders are so cowed by Limbaugh they feel they need to crawl back and kiss his ring if they offend him.
I felt bad for Steele during CPAC; he looked so ashamed at Michele Bachmann's idiotic greeting, "You be da man!" to her new, rare black colleague. But today Steele shamed himself.