For all his talk about “hope and change” and ending partisanship in Washington, President Obama has never been effective unless he can identify a villain as a target for liberal hatred. But after he vanquished Sen. John McCain in 2008 and President Bush had left the White House in 2009, Obama had no enemy to rail against.

Enter Rush Limbaugh. The Los Angeles Times reported in March 2009:

The Obama White House has begun advancing an aggressive political strategy: persuading the country that real power behind the Republican Party is not the GOP leaders in Congress or at the Republican National Committee, but rather provocative radio talk show king Rush Limbaugh.

President Obama himself, along with top aides and outside Democratic allies, have been pushing the message in unison.

Here is David Plouffe on message in the Washington Post. And here is Rahm Emanuel on “Face the Nation.” And here is Robert Gibbs slamming Limbaugh from the White House press room.

Limbaugh, of course, loved the attention. But as the New York Times‘ Andrew Rosenthal notes, Obama’s branding campaign was ultimately successful. Reporting on the recent College Republican report on young voters, Rosenthal writes:

The most damning conclusions lay in the survey’s examination of how people view the two major parties in terms of broad attributes. For Democrats, young voters chose “tolerant,” “diverse” and “open-minded,” while for Republicans they often chose “rich” and “religious.”

In focus groups in January, the report said, young voters were asked to list leaders of the Democratic Party. “They named prominent former or currently elected officials: Pelosi, the Clintons, Obama, Kennedy, Gore. When those same respondents were asked to name Republican leaders, they focused heavily on media personalities and commentators: Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck.”

Republicans are the ones ultimately to blame for this sorry state of affairs, but let’s not forget that branding Republicans as the party of Limbaugh was also one of Obama’s first goals when he took the White House.