Much has been made of Rush Limbaugh’s widely quoted “I hope Obama fails” comment, which he first made on his radio show a few days before Obama’s inauguration, and repeated it again at CPAC this past weekend.

Democrats have seized the initiative and are trying to make Rush Limbaugh the face and driving force of the GOP. Rahm Emanuel himself threw down the gauntlet on the Sunday talk shows yesterday.

Keep in mind Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey publicly apologized after making comments in a Politico story criticizing Rush Limbaugh.

Eric Cantor, the second highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, distanced himself from Limbaugh’s comments yesterday.

Now, we’ll see if Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party, is going to face the same kind of pressure to make amends with Limbaugh.

These episodes show just how large of a shadow Limbaugh and his audience casts on the Republican Party. I can’t think of anyone else in political or media circles on the right or left who has this much muscle that they can force a sitting member of Congress to issue a public apology. The question now is how far will he go with his rhetoric and how far is the Republican Party and the base willing to follow him?

Update: Limbaugh responds to Steele:

“Why do you claim to lead the Republican Party when you seem obsessed with seeing to it President Obama succeeds?” Limbaugh addressed Steele.

“I frankly am stunned that the chairman of the Republican National Committee endorses such an agenda. I have to conclude that he does because he attacks me for wanting it to fail,” said Limbaugh.

Late last week, Steele told CNN’s D.L. Hughley that Limbaugh is an “entertainer” whose comments are “ugly.”

Also on his radio program Monday, Limbaugh said Steele is being used by the “liberal media.”

“Michael Steele has been around long enough to know that the liberal media will use him by twisting what I say or what others say,” he said. “He took the bait, he bit down hard on the bait, he launched an attack on me, even though the premise of what was said to him was false.”

Update II: Damn, that was fast. Steele apologized to Limbaugh.

Limbaugh said he’s not in charge of the Republican Party, but every time a Party leader or elected official has to kiss his ring every time they say or do something that annoys him, it just reinforces the Democrats’ message strategy that Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP.

Update III: Andrew Sullivan has reactions to the Limbaugh-Steele feud from the conservative blogosphere.

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