Rush Limbaugh's trademark misogyny continues to haunt the Republican Party, but conservative pundits refuse to acknowledge that unpleasant truth. Instead, many Obama critics insist the recent political battle over contraception, in tandem with Rush Limbaugh's three-day verbal assault on Sandra Fluke, hasn't really hurt the GOP. In fact, it might have even helped.
What are partisans conveniently ignoring? The recent avalanche of good-news polling for Democrats, specifically the mounting evidence that the gender gap is accelerating at an alarming rate for Republicans.
That's Limbaugh legacy so far this year. But his fans don't dare admit it.
It was the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan who was out front last week leading the GOP's denial brigade. Obama's supposed political woes, she announced, began in January when the White House announced its (popular) decision to require church-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance plans that cover contraceptives for women. (In February, Noonan suggested Obama may have lost his re-election bid based solely on his handling of the issue.)
In her recent column, Noonan was sure she heard the "public reaction" to Obama's handling of the initiative:
"You're kidding me. That's not just bad judgment and a lack of civic tact, it's not even constitutional!"
Note those quotation marks are basically air quotes. Meaning, Noonan simply made up the quote, which reflected her own reaction to the contraception question, and suggested it mirrored a broader feeling about how Obama's contraception policy left a "sour taste" with Americans, and Catholics in particular.
Public polling released last month suggests otherwise:
Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor President Barack Obama's policy requiring birth control coverage for female employees, including clear majorities of Roman Catholic, Protestant evangelical and independent voters, a poll showed on Thursday.
Senate Republicans have staked their fate on a religious liberty argument calculated to resonate with conservative Catholics and like-minded voters in important political swing states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
But the data suggest an uphill struggle, with 60 percent of Catholics and 57 percent of Evangelicals favoring Obama's policy.
And that's not even a new finding. A similar poll from 2009 revealed 63 percent of American Catholics already supported health care coverage for birth control.
Over at the stridently anti-Obama website Power Line, a blogger announced Rush Limbaugh's "slut" and "prostitute" contraception controversy had been "trumped up" by liberals and had actually boomeranged, contributing to Obama's "terrible" and "very bad" month of March. That assessment differed dramatically from the majority of Americans who thought Limbaugh should have been fired for his extended, sexist smear on Fluke.
Meanwhile, contrary to the far-right claim from Noonan and others, there's no indication the fight over contraception has hurt Obama or Democrats. There is however, ample evidence it has helped them this year.
The trend towards Democrats has been especially strong among women voters who appear to be stampeding towards Obama in the wake of the contraception and Limbaugh controversies. A new Pew Research Center survey shows Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney by 20 points among women. And a USA Today/Gallup poll shows Obama with a more than 30-point lead among women under the age of 50 who live in twelve key swing states.
Between February and March, Obama's support grew by more than ten points among those designated voters, while support for Romney, who refused to condemn Limbaugh's attacks on Fluke, plummeted 14 points.
How bad is the gender gap crisis now facing Republicans following the political fury over birth control and Limbaugh's "slut" rant? Answer: More than one-in-four conservative women tell Pew they'd prefer to vote Democratic in November's presidential election.
Drawing the wrong conclusions from the birth control and Limbaugh battles, conservatives have been cheering themselves up by portraying the cultural skirmishes as victories for their side. Looking ahead to November, Noonan can foresee an Obama loss in part because she doubts he has forged any kind of relationship with the "broad electorate."
This, Noonan announced, just two days after CNN published poll results that indicate among the "broad electorate" Obama enjoys a gaping, 11 point-lead over Mitt Romney. Just two days after Quinnipiac University reported Obama had opened up comfortable leads in the Republican must-win states of Florida and Ohio. And just two days after an ABC/Washington Post poll showed the president's favorable rating had reached a one-year high, hovering 19 points above Romney's.
When Limbaugh unleashed his stunning attacks on Sandra Fluke, lots of right-wing commentators couldn't summon the courage to clearly condemn the talker's offensive behavior. One month later, they refuse to acknowledge the damage he's done to the Republican Party.