Talk radio, the powerhouse conservative media, appears to be "missing in action" when it comes to the Republican primary this year.
Rush Limbaugh, the nation's leading talker, startled his audience this past Monday by announcing he just may not bother backing the GOP nominee this year.
Limbaugh told his audience, "I can see possibly not supporting the Republican nominee this election, and I never thought that I would say that in my life."
Limbaugh's reason: “You don’t have a genuine down-the-list conservative” among the GOP candidates.
For example, John McCain has long been in Rush's sights because of his maverick backing of liberal positions like campaign finance reform.
A number of the nation’s leading conservative hosts seem to feel the same.
Mike Reagan, who played a big role in helping the GOP win back Congress in 1994, is agnostic this time around.
He tells Newsmax, "I will follow in my father's footsteps and remain uncommitted for the primaries." But unlike Rush, he says, he will back the Republican nominee whomever he is.
Michael Savage, the nation's third-largest syndicated host, says he has not endorsed any candidate "at this time."
Talkers Magazine reports that Mike Gallagher is the sixth most listened-to talk-radio host in America with over 3.75 million weekly listeners in top 10 markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Houston, and Philadelphia, as well as cities all over the country, and is the eighth most recognized talk-radio host.
He says, "I definitely dislike Huckabee. He is very much a fiscal liberal, wrong on illegal immigration, and he loves big government." But Gallagher, again, doesn't have one candidate he's backing.
Ditto Glenn Beck.
Beck tells Newsmax he hasn't yet endorsed a candidate and probably won't. "If I can't figure it out with a nonstop 24-hour-a-day news cycle for over a year, maybe I never will. Plus, people care more about Hannah Montana's endorsement than they do mine anyway."
He adds that he is not leaning in the direction of any candidate. "I’m leaning away from more people than I’m leaning towards. The climate of Washington frustrates me so much, I feel like I'm turning into Seinfeld looking for a date."
Beck does say he has warm feeling for Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, adding that each have parts that interest him. He adds, like Rush, that none of the GOP candidates is completely conservative.
Libertarian conservative Neal Boortz, who has over 6 million listeners on some 250 radio stations, says he's leaning toward Mike Huckabee. Boortz, a pro-choice libertarian, dislikes Huckabee's anti-abortion stand, but really likes Huckabee's Fair Tax program, one that Boortz advocated in a New York Times best-selling book.
So why the general malaise among America's leading hard-hitting hosts?
Several factors may be at work.
In the post-Reagan era, no candidate seems to grab the Reagan mantle and wear it well. All the GOP contenders appear to have warts, and can't seem to lasso the base of the GOP: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks.
But even if the hosts were to move behind a candidate, it's doubtful they could make a big difference this time.
Several of the leading hosts, led by Rush, have gone on all-out attacks against McCain. But being simply anti-campaign without a GOP candidate as an alternative has not hurt McCain, who has recaptured the front-runner status he lost well over a year ago.
Talk radio is also under siege. Audience numbers for many shows are way down, and once-fanatic listeners are going to the Web for news and views — sites like Newsmax — or tuning to cable news shows like Fox, or even switching to satellite radio like XM and Sirius, which don't carry many of the top-talk hosts.
The big question is the role the hosts will play in the general election, especially if Hillary Clinton, one of the great punching bags of the right, will be the Democratic nominee.
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