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Does Rush Limbaugh Stand a Chance Against Marco Rubio?

Judging the radio jockey's bouts with conservative politicians

Getty/Ethan Miller

Like a shark that has to keep swimming lest it suffocate, Rush Limbaugh must pick fights with people to keep his name alive. So demanding is his job that he sometimes resorts to attacking his own species. The target du jour of Limbaugh’s jabs: Marco Rubio. When he had Rubio on his radio show last month, Limbaugh asked the senator whether going through with immigration reform wasn’t “committing suicide” for Republicans. “He’s willing to give liberals a much bigger benefit of the doubt than I would, based on my experiences with ‘em,” Limbaugh said. He doubted the wisdom of granting “amnesty” to 11 million people, most of whom will “automatically” vote Democrat. (“It’s mathematics,” he said, although it’s really not.)

Who will win this bout? We’re still in the early rounds. But here’s how other conservatives fared when brawling with the radio jockey:

Michael Steele

In March 2009, newly-minted Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was asked about Limbaugh’s wishing to see President Barack Obama fail. Steele told CNN’s D.L. Hughley, “Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly.” Two days after that aired, Limbaugh responded to those few lines with a bitter lecture that, when transcribed, lasted ten paragraphs. “If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it’s in, I would quit,” he said. “I might get out the hari-kari knife because I would have presided over a failure that is embarrassing to the Republicans and conservatives who have supported it and invested in it all these years.” By the end of the day, Steele had apologized profusely.

The two got into it again this March, when Limbaugh compared Obama’s Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez to Hugo Chavez. “How did we jump to that?” said Steele, now just a TV pundit. “Oh, because he’s Hispanic? Oh, got it, got it, alright.” Limbaugh either didn’t care or didn’t even know about Steele’s remark.

Winner: Limbaugh, in the initial bout, by first-round knockout. The second bout was never scheduled, as Steele had dropped to a lower weight class.

Bill O’Reilly

The Fox News host ticked off Limbaugh by pointing out the weakness of arguments against gay marriage.“The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” O’Reilly said. “‘We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everyone else.’ … And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.” Limbaugh was taken aback. “How many of you who watch Fox are Bible-thumpers? Do you think there are any Bible-thumpers, quote unquote, that watch Fox? Because last night, you were sort of marginalized on ‘The Factor’ as not having a compelling argument and just being a bunch of Bible-thumpers.” Then there was feuding over whether they were feuding. Laura Ingraham appeared on O’Reilly’s show to inform him that they were. “I would say, Bill, there is a feud.” O’Reilly replied with a sputtering denial. Meanwhile, Limbaugh never deigned to comment.

Winner: Limbaugh, in a split decision.

Michele Bachmann

Rush was once Michele Bachmann’s most fawning supporter. He said in early 2011 that “She is a strong spokeswoman for unapologetic conservatism. She is neither extreme nor unreasonable, which is why her philosophy has resonated with grass-roots conservatives.” Then, in a late 2011 presidential debate, Bachmann said that the HPV vaccine Gov. Rick Perry had mandated for Texas girls may cause mental retardation. In response, Limbaugh invoked a rare tactic—the use of evidence—and derided Bachmann for saying something so baseless. “She’s now out saying this vaccination, Gardasil, causes mental retardation … that’s jumping the shark on this. There’s no evidence that the vaccine causes mental retardation. That’s a shame.”

But Bachmann lured him back to her side soon enough. She defended Limbaugh when he likened Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke to a prostitute. It was a “little, pinprick issue,” she said; the outrage was “overkill.” Limbaugh readily returned to carrying her water even when she was at her battiest—like when he said Bachmann was just “doing her Constitutional duty” by suggesting that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood

Winner: Limbaugh, by TKO

And yet, Limbaugh may be the loser in the long run. Cumulus, which carries Limbaugh’s show in 40 markets, just announced first-quarter losses of $2.4 million, which CEO Lew Dickey tied to the Fluke incident. This news came a few days after Politico’s Dylan Byers reported that Limbaugh was mulling a split from Cumulus because he is sick of being blamed for the company’s losses. It may be Limbaugh’s biggest feud yet—and if they can’t patch things up, Cumulus just might steal his belt.