Via Ambinder, this David Brooks column draws the obvious (to me at least) conclusions:
[T]he saddest thing is that even Republican politicians come to believe it. They mistake media for reality. They pre-emptively surrender to armies that don’t exist. They pay more attention to Rush’s imaginary millions than to the real voters down the street. The Republican Party is unpopular because it’s more interested in pleasing Rush’s ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer’s niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician’s coalition-building strategy.Brooks frames it around an idea of foolish GOP pols falling for a conspiracy of Dem pols and the liberal media to build up Rush & Co., but I guess I sort of hope that's just a device to get Republicans to listen. In fact, even if "Rush's ghosts" don't dominate voting booths, I do think he downplays their direct influence a bit. No, Rush by himself can't get people to flood the Democratic primaries to support Clinton in order to bloody Obama, but that's asking a lot. I do think that there's probably some direct influence in Republican primaries, and I'm certain that talk show hosts, cable news talkers, and bloggers can generate the kind of buzz that fuels campaign donations (especially at sub-presidential levels, where there are fewer other influences).
As far as overall effect, though, we have some good graphs today from Brendan Nyhan and from Ezra Klein showing just how poorly the GOP is doing. (Not that all of that is a Beck effect; more than anything, it's the Bush presidency, and there are presumably a variety of factors). Ezra says he's "not enough of an election wonk to know how that plays out," so I'll let him get back to figuring out what's going on in the bill-combining factories and then explaining it to us, and I'll give it a shot:
1. How the incumbents are perceived is generally going to be more important than how the out-party is perceived.
2. How the incumbents are perceived is going to be driven more by events (especially the economy, but also a general sense of how Obama is doing) than by what the out-party says.
3. The main positive thing that the out-party can do is to field lots of good candidates and get the lots of money. Odds are that Rush & Co. help with the latter, and if they can create an impression that a good GOP year is coming, they can help with the former.
4. All of these "generally" type things assume that the out-party doesn't put itself outside the reach of normal voters in the middle. Most of the time that's a safe assumption. It is possible that Republicans are putting themselves into a hole in which they violate that assumption, either nationally as a party, or (more likely) in lots of individual seats. I think it's fairly unlikely that the overall unpopularity of the Republican party will hurt them much, especially in an off-year election, but I think it's increasingly difficult for Republicans to nominate the kinds of normal good candidates who can take advantage of opportunity.
5. At the moment, the important thing to remember is that (Cook notwithstanding) Barack Obama is not an unpopular president, and the Democrats are not taking the bulk of the blame for the bad economy.
All told, I don't see any real sign out there of a major electoral uprising against the Democrats in 2010, but for the most part that's not because of the (very real) troubles that Republicans find themselves in.