David Brooks' has an interesting column today on the place of right-wing commentators in the conservative universe. Brooks thinks that the impact of Limbaugh et. al. has been vastly overtstated. He writes:
Along comes New Hampshire and McCain wins! Republican voters have not heeded their masters in the media. Before long, South Carolina looms as the crucial point of the race. The contest is effectively between Romney and McCain. The talk jocks are now in spittle-flecked furor. Day after day, whole programs are dedicated to hurling abuse at McCain and everybody ever associated with him. The jocks are threatening to unleash their angry millions. Yet the imaginary armies do not materialize. McCain wins the South Carolina primary and goes on to win the nomination. The talk jocks can’t even deliver the conservative voters who show up at Republican primaries. They can’t even deliver South Carolina!
Brooks has a real distaste for this wing of the conservative movement, but I am not sure I completely buy his conclusion:
For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P...
Unfortunately, Brooks adds:
So the myth returns. Just months after the election and the humiliation, everyone is again convinced that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the rest possess real power. And the saddest thing is that even Republican politicians come to believe it. They mistake media for reality. They pre-emptively surrender to armies that don’t exist.
Brooks wants to scold Democrats for acting as if Limbaugh and Beck have "control" over the party. And then a paragraph later he ruefully admits that Republican officeholders submit to the crazies! He cannot have it both ways. If Republicans are going to "surrender" to Limbaugh, then Brooks should not scold Democrats for mentioning Limbaugh's power.
More: Ramesh Ponnuru was unconvinced by Brooks' examples.