A lefty friend e-mailed me this afternoon before this even aired asking why MSNBC was running so many segments today on Limbaugh being the new head of the GOP. Answer: For the same reason Obama name-checked him in that meeting with Republicans leaders last week, knowing full well that it’d leak. The more the left builds him up, the more they can tar the whole GOP with whatever controversial thing he’ll say tomorrow. Rest assured, if the stimulus tanks, the economy craters, and centrists lurch back towards the right and noninterventionism, this momentary media spotlight on him will disappear mighty quick. As for why Republican leaders are loath to criticize him, Gingrey already told us in his pathetic, groveling apology this morning: “Because of the high volume of phone calls and correspondence received by my office since the Politico article ran, I wanted to take a moment to speak directly to grassroots conservatives. Let me assure you, I am one of you.” Such is Limbaugh’s standing with the base that to criticize him, however gently, is sufficient to call one’s conservative authenticity into question. There’s only one person who trumps him in that regard, in fact, and it’s that person who’s the real de facto head of the party.

Below the O’Donnell clip you’ll find a long, entertaining exchange between Joan Walsh and Dick Armey from tonight’s Hardball on — guess what — whether Rush Limbaugh’s the head of the GOP. Click the image to watch.