HOW TO BROWN-NOSE THE BOSS…. On Tuesday, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) subtly criticized Rush Limbaugh for finding it “easy” to “throw bricks” at the Republican leadership from the outside. Less than a day later, Gingrey, in a surprisingly pathetic move, apologized profusely to the right-wing host, both in writing and on the phone.

But how far are congressional Republicans prepared to go with their unyielding support of the talk-show host? Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) offered a helpful example yesterday.

Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, appeared on MSNBC, and was asked by Norah O’Donnell whether he’s willing to denounce some of Limbaugh’s recent comments. Specifically, she noted Limbaugh announcing that he hopes Obama fails, and his argument that the nation is being forced to “bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever” because Obama’s “father was black, because this is the first black president.”

Under the circumstances, one might expect Pence to offer some gentle chiding. Maybe he could say Limbaugh engaged in some “rhetorical excesses” or something. But, no, Pence said, “I cherish his voice in the public debate” and then accused O’Donnell of accusing Limbaugh of “racism.”

And with that, Pence won’t have to follow Gingrey’s example. Pence defended obvious lunacy, but at least he won’t have to apologize to Limbaugh today. Since the radio host seems to be calling the shots for the GOP, Pence probably assumes it’s better to rationalize madness than possibly offend Limbaugh. And he’s probably right.

As DougJ noted, “The mistake the Republicans are making here is a basic one: now they’ve admitted that they take orders from Rush, they’re on the hook for all the crazy ass things he says on the show. And that’s not a good place to be.”

That’s true, but I’d just add that Pence is not just some random Republican — he’s the #3 leader in the House GOP caucus. As Matt Yglesias explained, that leads to an even more significant problem: “The larger issue, however, is that Mike Pence is a moron, and any movement that would hold the guy up as a hero is bankrupt… He has no grasp, whatsoever, of public policy issues. And yet I can only gather from the fact that his colleagues have elevated him to a leadership post, that a large faction of them are actually so much stupider than Pence that they don’t realize how dumb he is. But it’s really staggering.”

It’s quite a caucus the House Republicans have.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.