Karl Rove is No Rush Limbaugh: Flunking Radio

“Bush’s Brain” filled in on the Rush Limbaugh show today. Tunku Varadarajan on why Rove should stick to his day job.

A version of liberal hell played out in America today when Karl Rove (“the Architect”) joined forces formally with Rush Limbaugh, hosting the Rush Limbaugh Show while the eponymous thunderer took a rare day off from his self-appointed role as chieftain of the Rumbustious Right. Rush, Rove told us—in an introductory quip that set the conspicuously unsubtle tone for the three hours of talk that ensued—was off at an “emergency meeting of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.” Rush, Rove also assured us, “will return” tomorrow. To which one might say, not a day too soon.

“Krush” (Karl-as-Rush) was the palest simulacrum of a Rush Limbaugh. Love him or loathe him, there can be no doubt that Rush is the master of a peculiarly American métier, that of partisan political talk-show host. His voice booms; his self-confidence is always in spate; his omniscience is a given; he is convinced of his own irrefutability; he is insurrectionary; he is a fomenter of passions; an uninhibited lover of his own vehemence. And he is gloriously, breathtakingly bombastic.

Listening to him riff on the radio, one was filled with retrospective alarm: Was this the mastermind in the Bush White House?

On his show on Friday, when Rush informed his listeners (his “ditto-heads”) that Rove would be subbing for him on Monday, he said, swaggeringly, that “the state-controlled media is just beside itself… because they know that this will be the most power Rove has had since he left the White House… in fact, it will be pretty much commensurate with the power that he had while he was in the White House.”

Now Rush is not a stupid man: far, far from it. What he was saying about “power” is, in fact, quite instructive: He was talking about the undeniable political power that he wields, the power, as it were, of a peerless community organizer—the community here being that of the disaffected, non-metropolitan American right, comprising not merely those who might be described as supporters of the Tea Party movement, but many others. In that sense, yes, Rush does wield power that is daunting, a power that is entirely of his own impressive steam.

Bryan Curtis: The Lost Bush MemoirPeter Beinart: The GOP's Revolt Against BushRove, by comparison, is a lightweight. What we learned today is that he does not have the voice for radio. By that I mean not just that his timbre is too thin, his tenor too brittle, but also that he has little oratorical or rhetorical structure, and no apparent ability to cast a spell over listeners. Reading his weekly column in The Wall Street Journal, one was already aware of the modesty of his mind. In fact, his column has done much to baffle many Americans: How on earth did this man become the dark genius of the liberal imagination? Listening to him riff on the radio, one was filled with retrospective alarm: Was this the mastermind in the Bush White House?

Whatever one’s position on Michelle Obama’s vacation in Spain—a vacation which, by many accounts, has cost the taxpayer a significant sum—one could not but cringe when Rove asked, “Why didn’t she vacation inside the United States, the Estados Unidos, rather than Española?” or when he described Berkeley, where he’d been recently, as “Moscow-on-the-Pacific-Coast.” (Memo to Rove: The Berlin Wall has been torn down. Putin’s Moscow is a brothel of authoritarian capitalism, not a communist bastion.)

Three hours of Rove, I should admit, ground me down—so much so that, by the start of the second hour, I began to dread the end of the commercial breaks. I wish I could ask Rove to stick to his day job, but since that consists of writing a trite and predictable weekly column (a rare dud on the Journal’s otherwise indispensable editorial page), I fear I can’t even say that.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow in Journalism at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU's Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)