This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 3, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight: While the Democrats are certainly having their problems, Republicans are disorganized as well. Appearing on CNN, new Republican National Committee leader Michael Steele was confronted with that.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rush Limbaugh, who is the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIR: No, he's not. I'm the leader of the Republican Party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I tell you what. I've never heard anybody…
STEELE: I'm the leader of the Republican Party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, I understand he wants liberalism to fail. I get that. It's not about the man, but it is still about the idea that he would rather have an idea fail…
STEELE: How is that any different than what was said about George Bush? Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: In reply, Mr. Limbaugh said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Michael Steele has been around long enough to know that the liberal media will use him by twisting what I say or by what others say. 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. He took the bait and he went for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: Mr. Steele then apologized to Mr. Limbaugh. The RNC chief would not appear with us tonight on "The Factor," but joining from us Washington, FOX News Washington managing editor, Bill Sammon.
So look, I don't know which party is more chaotic at this point. You got a radio talk show host, powerful guy, Rush Limbaugh calling a lot of shots in the Republican Party it seems. And Steele obviously didn't like it or doesn't like it. Doesn't want to get in a fight with Rush Limbaugh. That would be suicide for him. So what do you think?
BILL SAMMON, FNC DC MANAGING EDITOR: Well, I think that Steele is the head of the Republican Party and Rush Limbaugh is the head of the conservative cause in this country. I think Steele made a mistake by throwing Rush under the bus. Rush came back and unloaded all over Steele and showed that Steele was probably punching above his weight class. Steele then apologized, and both of them are trying to put it behind them.
But what's interesting about this dispute, Bill, is that when Steele talked about Rush Limbaugh, he talked about ugly, he talked about incendiary, he talked about he's an entertainer. All of those criticisms were about style or tone, not about substance. In other words, Steele and Rush don't represent some sort of fundamentally different and disagreeing factions within the right, you know, on issues like, you know, gun control or taxes, or abortion or, you know, the march towards socialism. They're basically on the same side of 90 percent of the issues.
O'REILLY: But it's the perception that gives people who don't follow politics closely and really don't know what's going on is that Michael Steele obviously is apologizing to Rush Limbaugh, that Limbaugh is more powerful than Steele. And Limbaugh may well be. He may well be.
SAMMON: He probably is. I mean, you know, RNC chairmen come and go. Rush Limbaugh is a constant in the American conservative movement.
O'REILLY: So then the question becomes who's running the Republican Party? Who is the most powerful person within the Republican Party? Who's shaping how the party behaves?
SAMMON: Well, I would say, you know, again, you're getting into semantics here. I mean, again, I think Rush is the head of the conservative cause. He happens to be Republican. So I would say that he's the most influential Republican. Michael Steele is the head of the Republican Party, but you know…
O'REILLY: All right, but is it wise for a Republican Party to have a radio talk show host as the most powerful person in it? Is that a good thing?
SAMMON: I think it is a good thing.
O'REILLY: You do?
SAMMON: I mean, I don't think it's a bad thing to have Rush Limbaugh articulating. I mean, Rush Limbaugh is way more than an entertainer. He is a fearless, unapologetic advocate of conservatism. He doesn't — he's not constrained by the — politicians basically can't say certain things. Rush can just let it fly.
O'REILLY: If Rush Limbaugh ran for president next time, would he win?
SAMMON: I don't think so. Again, he's not a politician. He is a spokesman. He's the leader of a movement and a cause.
O'REILLY: OK, but here's what I'm getting at. Here's what I'm getting at. If Rush Limbaugh ran for president, and he didn't win, OK, he didn't — couldn't get the plurality of the nation behind him for whatever reason, but he is now the signature voice of the Republican Party, it seems to me the Republican Party has got some problems. It looks leaderless. It looks rudderless. That's what it looks like. Am I wrong?
SAMMON: No, I think you're right. I think right now, the Republican Party is casting about for its next generation of leaders. They got their clocks cleaned in 2006 and in 2008.
O'REILLY: All right. So there is disarray in the party.
SAMMON: There's a couple people…
O'REILLY: Now, do you believe — look, Brit Hume and I, gentlemen's disagreement, but I think there's problems between Pelosi and Obama and Rahm Emanuel is — I think he knows it. Brit doesn't. He thinks that Pelosi and Obama are simpatico. If that's true, then there really isn't any trouble inside the Democratic Party if Brit is right. If I'm right, there is. Where do you come down?
SAMMON: I believe that you're both right and let me explain. I believe that…
O'REILLY: Oh, come on, Sammon.
SAMMON: No, let me — because you said two different things. I believe that Pelosi and Obama are simpatico on most issues. I believe, unlike you, that Obama really is a pretty far leftist guy just like Pelosi. He just appears as a moderate. He positions and postures as a moderate.
O'REILLY: All right, so you agree with Brit. You agree with Brit that…
SAMMON: Well, but I agree with you that there's problems within the Democratic Party. It's basically between the leftists like Obama and Pelosi and the blue dogs, who are, you know, concerned about the spending. They're concerned about the, you know, guns, issues like that. They're concerned about the cram down…
O'REILLY: But don't you think Obama — you may be right philosophically on Barack Obama. I can't read his mind, but don't you think Barack Obama…
SAMMON: Read his voting record.
O'REILLY: ...understands the backlash that's building, that — look…
O'REILLY: ...Nancy Pelosi couldn't run for president. It's the same question I asked about Rush Limbaugh. Nobody's going to elect Nancy Pelosi president. She's way too polarizing, OK?
SAMMON: No, I get what you're saying. They're both on the same side ideologically, but I think Obama does worry that Pelosi is perceived as the San Francisco wild-eyed liberal.
SAMMON: And Barack Obama likes to preserve his image as a moderate. And he worries that if she pulls him too far into that direction, that he will suffer the same fate as her…
O'REILLY: He's going to get hammered.
SAMMON: ...which is rock bottom approval ratings and a one-term presidency.
O'REILLY: All right. So you would say that it's accurate to believe both political parties in this country have turbulence?
SAMMON: I think there is more in the Democratic side because the Republicans are amazingly united and galvanized by Barack Obama's agenda towards socialism.
O'REILLY: All right, Bill, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
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