KISSING THE BOSS’ RING…. The irony is, when RNC Chairman Michael Steele described Rush Limbaugh as an “incendiary” and “ugly” entertainer, his intended goal was to prove that the radio host isn’t the “de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

By the time Steele extended a pathetic apology to Limbaugh late yesterday, the RNC chairman had, of course, proven the opposite point.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he has reached out to Rush Limbaugh to tell him he meant no offense when he referred to the popular conservative radio host as an “entertainer” whose show can be “incendiary.”

“My intent was not to go after Rush — I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate…. There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

“I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele added. How ridiculous was the RNC chairman’s groveling? Explaining what he meant when he labeled Limbaugh “incendiary” and “ugly,” Steele said, “What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not.”

C’mon, Steele. Try to maintain at least some sense of dignity here. As apologies go, this is just humiliating. It doesn’t even make any sense.

For those keeping score at home, this is reversal #3 for Republicans who’ve been recently critical of Limbaugh. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) groveled for Rush’s forgiveness in late January, and Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R-S.C.) office quickly backpedaled after the governor said, “Anyone who wants [President Obama] to fail is an idiot.” Steele took slightly longer to prostrate himself — he made the comments on Saturday night — but that’s only because the remarks didn’t rise to public attention until yesterday.

That Gingrey, Sanford, and Steele were all correct in their assessments is irrelevant. This isn’t about accuracy; it’s about making sure the right-wing blowhard and his followers are happy.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, hoping to prove who’s really calling the shots in the Republican Party, said on Sunday morning, “[W]henever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood.” In this sense, Steele continues to make the Democratic strategy even easier.

Indeed, shortly after Steele’s humiliating groveling, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine issued a statement piling on: “I was briefly encouraged by the courageous comments made my counterpart in the Republican Party over the weekend…. However, Chairman Steele’s reversal this evening and his apology to Limbaugh proves the unfortunate point that Limbaugh is the leading force behind the Republican Party, its politics and its obstruction of President Obama’s agenda in Washington.”

Or, as Satyam Khanna put it, “To quote Rush, a lot of Republicans are being told to ‘bend over and grab the ankles‘ for him.”

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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.