Kenneth R. Bazinet In Washington and David Saltonstall In New York
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
There's a reason White House aides have dubbed conservative radio ranter Rush Limbaugh the new face of the GOP - polls showed he's a big, fat target of opportunity.
Only a tiny fraction of voters younger than 40-11%--have a positive view of the talk king, a survey James Carville and other Democratic advisers to President Obama took last fall found.
That - combined with Limbaugh's more recent wish to see Obama "fail"--was all the White House needed to launch its coordinated campaign this week to cast Limbaugh as the hydra-headed leader of the temporarily headless GOP.
"Who in the Republican Party commands more fear than he does?" Carville asked the Daily News. "Nobody."
Limbaugh, clearly enjoying the attention, upped the ante Wednesday by challenging Obama to a debate on his radio show - while conceding that, yes, he is the GOP's "last man standing." The White House declined to comment.
"If you can wipe me out in a debate ... do you realize you will own the United States of America?" Limbaugh said on-air. "You will have no opposition."
Stoking the flames, Limbaugh mockingly urged the President not to send in his place any "lightweights," including "the ballerina, Emanuel."
The reference was to Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a serious ballet dancer in his youth, who kicked off the strategy by calling Limbaugh "the voice and intellectual force" behind the GOP.
The White House's central aim, insiders say, is to stoke the anger of independents, a key bloc always more interested in solutions than in partisan naysaying.
Wednesday, the strategy came into full bloom when former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe penned an Op-Ed in The Washington Post headlined, "Minority Leader Limbaugh."
But the self-reinforcing power of the strategy, others noted, is that it depends on Limbaugh continuing to talk in ever-more divisive tones--a bet many are happy to make.
"As long as he's talking, we're happy," said Carville, whom Limbaugh referred to Wednesday as "a second-rate talking head" who--along with Emmanuel and adviser Paul Begala--looks like "a reunion of the Village People."
"It looks like that is going to work out," Carville said of Limbaugh's rhetorical ramp-up.