It's becoming an established routine of Republican politics: As surely as AIG will ask for even more government money or your lovable pet chimpanzee will one day freak out and bite off one of your appendages, Republican politicians will quickly apologize soon after disagreeing with or criticizing Rush Limbaugh. Such was the case with Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey, and now so it is with RNC chairman Michael Steele. Steele had called Limbaugh's show "incendiary" and "ugly" while on D.L. Hughley's CNN show Saturday, which resulted in a predictable Limbaugh diatribe on his radio show yesterday. Last night Steele backed down, issuing a not-entirely-believable apology: “My intent was not to go after Rush I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele told Politico. "I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking.” So once again Limbaugh proves who wears the pants in the Republican Party, while meanwhile, somewhere in a dark White House hallway, Rahm Emanuel is laughing maniacally.
• Chris Cillizza looks at how the Democrats are planning to exploit the rifts between Limbaugh and Republican leaders. Democratic strategists "believe that they have only begun to mine the Limbaugh vein, maintaining that while he is a potent force and much beloved by the GOP's conservative base he is widely disliked by independent and swing voters." [Fix/WP]
• Howard Kurtz writes that normally the administration in power would "avoid talking about a mere radio critic," so as not to "elevate him to the level of the president." But it turns out that's "exactly what the Obama team wants" because they'd "rather campaign against him than the Republican congressional leaders." [Media Notes/WP]
• Josh Marshall is "loving Steele," calling him "about the worst, most embarrassing party chair we've seen in recent memory." But it's also "sad for the Republican party that no one can criticize Rush without having to be hauled out for this sort of humiliation a day or so later." [TPM]
• Steve Benen implores Steele to "[t]ry to maintain at least some sense of dignity here. As apologies go, this is just humiliating. It doesn't even make any sense." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]
• Joan Walsh doesn't buy Steele's explanation, since you can't misspeak for an entire conversation. "Apparently party leaders are so cowed by Limbaugh they feel they need to crawl back and kiss his ring if they offend him." [Salon]
• Michelle Malkin is still waiting for "word on how his agreement with Hughley that the GOP convention looked like 'Nazi Germany' was misunderstood, too."
• Rod Dreher exclaims "Think of it! The head of the Republican Party apologized to a talk radio host for uttering a mild criticism of him. This must be the End Times, because there are signs and wonders all over the damn place." [Crunchy Con/Beliefnet]
• John Hanlon understands "why the left is going after Rush but this intraparty fighting is very disappointing." Instead, "Republicans should stay focused on the major isssues [sic] facing this country and the major changes in government that President Obama is advocating." [Town Hall]
• Andrew Sullivan insists that "[t]his climb-down marks the end of establishment Republican resistance to the Poujadist pontificator. It's Rush's party now." [Atlantic]
• Ta-Nehisi Coates offers Steele some advice: "The first rule for establishing 'Off The Hook Urban-Suburban Hip-Hop Strategies' is if you gonna dis a mofo, then dis him. Don't come out the box quoting 'How You Like Me Now,' and then go and apologizes [sic] to the guy who you just dissed." [Atlantic]
• Chuck Todd and friends write that it's "become increasingly true" that when "Limbaugh says jump, Republican officials quickly respond, 'How high?'" ... "Of course, there is now an open invitation for some ambitious Republican to become the first to have the guts to stand up to Rush." [First Read/MSNBC]
• Mark Steyn says Steele "has managed to suggest to his own party base that he has a lazy disposition that reflexively shares the liberal biases, and to allow the wider world to portray him as a craven squish." It's "not encouraging," and Steele "does not appear ready for primetime." [Corner/National Review]
• John Nichols believes this "settle[s] the question of who is now calling the shots in what was once the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt but is now not much more than Rush Limbaugh's plaything." [State of Change/Nation]