Conor Friedersdorf, in an article on Rush Limbaugh's comments on Osama Bin Laden's death, delivers some of the best analysis of Limbaugh's technique that I've ever seen.
Osama bin Laden's death caused a bunch of curiosity seekers to tune into Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Would the man who said he wanted President Obama to fail congratulate him on this success?
His problem was that he couldn't come out Monday morning swinging. Sure, some of his listeners would stick by him. But the Limbaugh audience is largely made up of nationalistic War on Terror hawks who wanted bin Laden's head on a pike as much as anyone. Opening with a direct attack on Obama after an event that brought out the jingoism in NPR listeners wasn't going to play.
Longtime Limbaugh watchers won't be surprised by his ingenious if cowardly solution.
In order to fully grasp his mastery of the strategically ambiguous monologue, let's go back to the line I flagged before: “Last night I was as proud as I have been of the U.S. military in I don't know how long.” Earnest praise for the troops? Sure seems like it on first listen. Mocking allusion to Michelle Obama's controversial "proud of my country for the first time" remark? Also plausible! Especially in context. Certainly some of his listeners heard it that way and chuckled. But also totally deniable if necessary! The important thing to realize is that there is no right answer, other than whatever happens to be more convenient for Limbaugh at a particular moment in time.
For pathological narcissists like Limbaugh, there is no truth of what they really mean when they say things; it's rhetorical strategies all the way down.