These haven't been the best couple of weeks for Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, or Bobby Jindal. (OK, let's carve out a possible exception for Limbaugh.)
What these three people have in common is that they're all significant figures who have taken fire from different elements of the conservative movement at the behest of the Obama White House and the Kos/TPM/Olbermann triangle.
It's time this stopped.
Conservatives need to decide who we want to see succeed and who we want to see fail. We then need to calibrate our reactions to the inevitable missteps from either camp accordingly. If someone we want to succeed comes under attack, we hold our fire and close ranks -- unless it's clear they've become a long-term liability. If it's someone we want to see fail -- like Jim Bunning -- we unload until they get off the stage.
Limbaugh, Steele, and Jindal are all important personalities that we should all want to see succeed. The larger and more influential Rush's audience, the more mobilized the base will be against Obama. This has nothing to do with Rush exerting policy leadership over the GOP -- and everything to do with Rush as a popularizer of conservative principles and a rallying point for opposition. The best reaction to the Limbaugh "controversy" is for GOP politicians to avoid it entirely -- while Rush's audience grows and grows.
Michael Steele made a tactical mistake in getting drawn into this argument, but I still want him to be a successful RNC Chairman. Steele was elected Chairman as a fresh face and a reformer, a basic orientation the Republican Party will need to embrace in 2010. He remains one of the most compelling public faces of the party. If I were a Democrat, I would rejoice if Michael Steele were somehow made less relevant. Moreover, his challenge of the party's blind support for incumbents -- conservatives' #1 frustration with the RNC -- is probably more relevant to his leadership as Chairman than his Rush comments.
And some conservatives have gleefully joined in on the pile-on against Bobby Jindal for his delivery of the non-SOTU response and stayed mostly silent when it came time to counter the left's coordinated attack against Jindal's leadership during Katrina.
Taking a step back, and it's easy to see why the Obama team must be rejoicing. Some of the Republican Party's most charismatic and influential voices are being attacked -- from within. Conservatives appear flailing and divided, embroiled in controversies against the leading talk show host, the party chairman, and one of the party's rising stars.
I could deal with the "flailing and divisive" narrative if it were aimed at public embarrassments, like Bunning, or against more expendable, transactional pols -- people whose removal would not hurt the cause and in fact could help it.
We should be highly vigilant -- however -- when the attacks are aimed at people who would be significant public scalps for the Democrats, and who are not easily replaced.
At some level, we have to project a basic level of confidence in the people we choose to elevate -- whether it's on the radio, at the RNC, or in the statehouses -- especially if these are the kind of people we say we want -- younger, aggressive, reformers, etc. If we are too eager to throw people like Steele and Jindal under the bus when we were celebrating them not so long ago, conservatives overall appear indecisive and uncertain in their leadership.
Ultimately, the journey out of the wilderness won't happen without a leader. We will ultimately have to learn how to get on the bus with somebody, warts and all. This is what a mature movement did with Reagan. And it's what the left did with Obama. I'm not pronouncing anyone the leader right now, but if we fall into the left's trap of delegitimizing important conservatives and potential rising stars from the get-go, we will never know what it is like to have that kind of leadership because only the utterly mediocre will be let through the netroots/MSM filter of Republican leadership.