IS THERE A THIRD CHOICE?…. Leadership vacuums can lead to some genuine unpleasantness for a political party.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele is taking issue with the notion that Rush Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP, calling the conservative radio talk show host an entertainer whose comments can be ugly.

Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview with CNN that he, rather than Limbaugh, is “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

And Steele described Limbaugh as a performer.

“Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s whole thing is entertainment,” Steele said. “Yes, it is incendiary. Yes, it is ugly.”

Specifically, when CNN’s D.L. Hughley referred to Limbaugh as “the de facto leader of the Republican Party,” Steele quickly interjected, “No, he’s not. I’m the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

Now, I’m delighted to hear Steele refer to Limbaugh as “incendiary” and “ugly.” Chances are, the RNC chairman is going to have to walk that back fairly soon — Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) can probably offer him some advice — but Steele was probably trying to appear reasonable and credible, at least temporarily, while talking to Hughley.

Regardless, how depressing is this for the Republican Party? Determining the GOP’s “de facto leader” comes down to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Steele?

Shouldn’t there be some kind of third choice, perhaps someone who’s actually been elected to some kind of public office?

Steve Benen

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.