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Published: Wednesday, 3/7/2012

Weak-kneed on Limbaugh

Broadcaster Rush Limbaugh cultivates outrage, which invites periodic condemnation, which drives more resentful and angry listeners to his rancorous radio show. Criticism doesn't hurt him -- it makes him more popular.

In his latest crude excess, Mr. Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute." She believes that her university should provide employee health insurance that covers birth control.

At least seven advertisers dropped Mr. Limbaugh's show because of the controversy. But it seems disingenuous of them to complain that he crossed the line in this instance, when his appeal to his listeners is that he crosses the line regularly. If these advertisers don't come back, others will take their place.

With an income of more than $30 million a year, Mr. Limbaugh does not need to worry about his future. His insincere apology -- that he "did not intend a personal attack" on Ms. Fluke -- will do the trick until his next verbal outrage.

But the Republican Party does need to worry. Mr. Limbaugh occupies no official position with the GOP, but he is its de-facto spokesman. He says what millions of the party faithful believe. In the absence of a real party establishment, he represents many voters whom Republican presidential candidates seek to impress.

For evidence of his leadership, look at the tepid response to his attack on Ms. Fluke from the party's would-be leaders. Rick Santorum allowed that an "entertainer can be absurd."

Mitt Romney said: "It's not the language I would have used." House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, through a spokesman, called the slurs "inappropriate." That's telling him.

Republicans insist the real issue in the insurance/contraception debate is freedom of religion. Mr. Limbaugh's smirking comments give credence to the opposing claim that it is an element of a war against women.

Rush Limbaugh is the face of the party. That's a problem for the party.

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