When water carriers put down their buckets

WHEN WATER CARRIERS PUT DOWN THEIR BUCKETS…. Conservative talk radio continues to be a major political force, and arguably the only thriving component of the conservative movement.

It has, however, been burdened with its general support for a certain failed presidency that is nearly over. Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, have managed to maintain a loyal following of conservative Republicans, but they’ve nevertheless struggled to carry water for a White House that’s failed in nearly every endeavor.

With this in mind, far-right blowhards are disappointed with the outcome of the elections, but they’re thrilled about having new targets for their rage.

Amid all the pressures on the radio industry, news-talk stations see an opportunity — and his name is Barack Obama.

After eight years of playing defense for President Bush, the conservatives who dominate talk radio are back on offense.

Hours after Mr. Obama’s election, the country’s most popular radio host, Rush Limbaugh, was talking about the “rebirth of principled opposition.” Sean Hannity, the second highest-rated host, quickly cast his afternoon show as the home of “conservatism in exile.”

It is a lively time to be behind the microphone. One television talker, Joe Scarborough, is starting a radio show. Another, Bill O’Reilly, is ending his.

Several of the supporting actors in this year’s Republican primary are showing interest in the medium, too. Fred Thompson, the “Law & Order” star turned presidential candidate, will begin hosting a two-hour show in March, as the syndicator Westwood One is expected to announce this week. Mr. Thompson’s show would take the place of Mr. O’Reilly’s.

If I were to guess, I’d say Thompson will soon grow tired of hosting a two-hour daily program — let’s just say his strengths lie elsewhere — and his fill-in guest hosts probably shouldn’t make any lengthy travel plans.

Regardless, every Republican with credible name recognition seems to be trying to sign a radio deal. Thompson got a show, Giuliani wants a show, and Huckabee is starting to dabble in radio, with expectations that it’ll lead to more airtime in the future. All of this comes, of course, after lucrative new contracts for Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Laura Ingraham over the last 24 months. (A middle tier, featuring Monica Crowley and Lou Dobbs, is also apparently expanding its on-air presence.)

Whether these folks can actually keep an audience engaged remains to be seen, but the rush for microphones looks a bit like conservatives playing an odd game of musical chairs.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.