No transcript or audio yet, but Matt Lewis has bits and pieces. The media’s going to wet itself at the prospect of a conservative civil war, so here’s the first post of doubtless many more to come.

“The Republican National Committee and Michael Steele need a little leadership … we’re going to have to drag them kicking and screaming back to our core,” Limbaugh said. “They are caught up in so much fear because of where they live and work in Washington, DC,” he said.

Responding to Steele’s argument that he is the “de facto” head of the GOP, Limbaugh warned: “Michael Steele — you are head of the RNC — you are not head of the Republican Party.” Limbaugh went on to say Steele would have to become President for that to happen. He also noted: “… I’m not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don’t want to be.”

There’s more at the link, although you’d benefit from watching the video of Steele criticizing him first if you missed it yesterday. My point then, and Ace’s point today, is that pandering to centrists is a political fact of life for politicians. Steele and Cantor, when forced to choose between criticizing Limbaugh and having to explain his “I hope he fails” rhetoric over and over again, will take the former every time: Right-wing partisans will turn out against Obama anyway in four years but the middle has to be wooed, and defending a sentiment about failure in the current political climate while The One’s busy framing himself as Mr. Nonpartisan does not a winning “moderate” message make. No wonder Gibbs is urging the media to keep asking Republicans whether they agree with Limbaugh. If they say yes, they’re vindictive partisans and if they say no they’ll get hammered by Rush on his show. The upshot:

“Steele is playing with fire,” said one longtime Republican adviser close to House Republicans and both Bush families. Of concern is that Steele, the party’s first black chairman, will be attacked by Limbaugh and other talk show hosts, further splitting the party…

Republicans are concerned that a feud between the national party and conservative talk radio would upset donors, who would stop giving to the party. “One possible outcome is that giving by the base, sickly for the last few years, could get even worse,” said a key GOP donor. Steele’s supporters, however, say that he is not trying to pick a fight with conservative radio and is just trying to counter Democratic charges that Limbaugh—who has engaged in a verbal war with President Obama—is the de facto boss of the party. He is also trying to put the word out there that the GOP is open to other viewpoints.

Exit question via Ace: Why is Rush taking this personally? He knows the political game that’s being played here and why Steele, in his leadership role, has to navigate away from hyperpartisan rhetoric. For that matter, why is he so insistent on challenging Steele’s claim to be the current head of the GOP? Who else is it if not him?

Update: With all due love and respect for the boss, I think she’s in the extreme minority of the conservative base these days if she truly believes “there’s nothing wrong with criticizing Rush Limbaugh.” I’m not sure why she’s reading Steele labeling Rush an “entertainer” so derisively, either. Hugh Hewitt, among others, also calls him that. Steele’s point, I thought, wasn’t that there’s something wrong with entertainers but merely that our expectations of their rhetoric have to be calibrated accordingly. Part of being an entertainer is being provocative or “incendiary.” That’s all he was saying.

Update: The Plum Line has an extended passage from the show. A taste:

When you send those fundraising requests out, Mr. Steele, make sure you say, we — we — we want Obama to succeed. So people understand your compassion. Republicans, conservatives are sick and tired of being talked down to, sick and tired of being lectured to. And until you show some understanding and respect for who they are, you’re going to have a tough time rebuilding your party.

Update: Matt Lewis has the audio.