PALM BEACH, Fla. – The real winner in the Iowa Caucuses was not Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul, but rather President Obama, at least according to the national news media.

So says radio giant Rush Limbaugh who noted major media voices from across the country were singing the praises of Obama’s re-election chances, claiming Republicans appear to be divided among the likes of the top three finishers in the Hawkeye State.

MSNBC’s Martin Bashir declared: “The big winner in Iowa: President Obama.”

And Bashir’s colleague Al Sharpton said, “If I’m in Romney’s camp, I wanted to go to New Hampshire and start running against President Obama. Now he has got to run against Santorum. And the longer that narrative plays, the better it is for the president.”

But Limbaugh countered that train of thought.

“Let me tell you, this is such a crock,” he said. “Did it hurt Obama that he and Hillary were going at it all the way practically to the convention in 2008? Did it hurt Obama? No. Did it hurt the Democrats that Hillary and Obama were fighting each other long past the time the Democrats hoped that there would be a solid nominee? No! This idea that somehow Obama is helped by an ongoing nomination fight on the Republican side is just pure poppycock, folks. This is not good for Obama. What this means is that the focus is going to continue to be on the Republicans and their message and a greater opportunity for that message to get out, and it is going to be a conservative message.”

Limbaugh also noted the fourth-place finish of Newt Gingrich, who had been the front-runner for a time in the weeks before last night’s vote.

“Newt is ticked off,” said Limbaugh. “He is livid over the negative ads that Romney’s PAC (political action committee) ran against him in Iowa. And it’s true. It’s safe to say that Romney’s ads took Newt out.”

Limbaugh said he hardly expects Gingrich to pull a Michele Bachmann and drop out of the presidential race.

“Newt’s not getting out. Newt’s in this to destroy Romney now. Newt may be more motivated to destroy Romney than to even win this. Now who does that benefit? Santorum, who’s going to be sitting out over there on the other side, doing the Mr. Clean routine. … It’s possible that Romney might have to endure Newt going for the jugular in these [forthcoming] debates.”

He added, “There might be a huge upside here, because nobody has really taken it to Romney. If Newt can be the first person to make a case against Romney, a credible case against Romney, then Santorum is positioned out there to perhaps take advantage. The conventional wisdom on Santorum is, ‘What a joke! This guy can’t win in anything beyond Iowa. He’s an extreme pro-lifer.'”

Limbaugh also said there’s a new mantra in the media that made its debut today, that “Santorum’s a big government guy.”

He pointed to two columns by right-leaning media writers in National Review Online and Britain’s Daily Telegraph which used the phrase “big government” to describe the former Pennsylvania senator.

“It’s the single greatest indication that they’re afraid of him and taking him seriously,” Limbaugh said.

He also said 2008 presidential candidate John McCain’s expected endorsement of Mitt Romney could do more harm than good for the former Massachusetts governor.

“If I were seeking the Republican nomination for president, there are people whose endorsement I would want and people who I wish would not say anything,” Limbaugh noted. “And McCain would be one who I would hope wouldn’t come out in my favor. That’s all I’m saying.”

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