Barack Obama hasn't even been in the Oval Office for a full week and already he's made a huge mistake in the eyes of many: invoking the name of Rush Limbaugh. In a statement, Obama said that Republicans would have to stop listening to Rush if they wanted to get along with the President. Naturally, Limbaugh has already responded, so the battle of words and wits will continue.
At first, I thought Obama had blundered, like he had a number of times during his first few days in office. Upon further review, however, it may be a bold calculation on his part, one that could pay political dividends if played correctly. The move was designed to attract the attention of two groups Obama needs to have on his side: the far left, and moderate Republicans. By bashing Limbaugh, the far left will stay on Obama's side, since they have a seething hatred for El Rushbo.
However, what isn't so well known is that the moderate Republicans aren't big Limbaugh fans, either. They use many of the same adjectives the Left use for Rush: divisive, hateful, mean, loud, caustic. The main reason for this is because Rush is as hard on moderate Republicans as he is on the Left, which doesn't sit well with many moderates. So, when it comes to moderate Republicans and Rush Limbaugh, it's safe to say they're not on speaking terms.
This is where it becomes a political calculation. Obama needs moderate Republicans on his side to ensure passage of items he feels he needs to get done in his first year or two. As it stands now, the House should be able to help him, but eventually the Senate will have to get involved. And in the Senate, the Democrats are a couple of seats shy of the magic number of 60. With 60 votes, the Democrats can shut off debate, effectively removing a powerful weapon the Senate Republicans have to block Obama's agenda, but the Democrats don't have 60 votes.
At least, not yet.
For the Senate Democrats to reach 60 votes, they will need some Republicans to jump ship and vote with them. And with some of the moderate Republicans in the Senate, it won't take much to nudge them over to the Democrat side. Attacking Limbaugh is a good first step.
The other aspect to consider is how safe each Republican Senate seat is and where the race for it will be held in 2010. In safe seats, Republicans will be more inclined to do what they want since they either face little to no opposition. However, if there are Senate Republicans in races they could lose in states where moderates and Leftists can do well, those Republicans will have a choice to make: stand with the GOP, or stand with Obama. With either choice, there is a risk involved. If Obama continues to ride a wave of popularity, standing with the Republicans will lead to almost certain defeat. If Obama's popularity wanes, standing with him will lead to the same result. In either case, moderate Republicans in the Senate will certainly keep their eyes on Obama's approval numbers to make their plays.
If Obama's campaign was any indication, he wants to rule from the center. To do that, he's going to need the help of moderate Republicans, and with his recent swipe at Rush Limbaugh, he might have taken a big step towards getting that help.