Gingrich, Limbaugh tone down earlier rhetoric
WASHINGTON – After an initial burst of often personal criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, some conservatives are scaling back their attacks and admitting that her judicial record is more moderate than her speeches that they have been trumpeting on talk radio, cable TV and YouTube.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the retreat Wednesday, saying he went too far when he called Sotomayor a racist based on a speech in which she said that a wise Latina would make a better decision in a discrimination case than a white man would.
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, while not retracting his description of the judge as a racist, later echoed Gingrich in saying that her long judicial record warrants more consideration. Limbaugh said he might even support her if he thinks there’s a chance she would oppose abortion rights.
The retreat came as Republicans in the Senate, as well as in some statehouses and elsewhere, balked at the incendiary talk, calling it a mistake to judge Sotomayor before her record could be examined or hearings held, and a political gaffe to offend Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing bloc of voters.
Some of these Republicans were especially troubled that the attacks on Sotomayor, coupled with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s attack on former Secretary of State Colin Powell and other moderate Republicans, could worsen the splits in the party and paint all Republicans as extremists.
This comes at a time when two elections in a row showed the American people turning away from the Bush-Cheney administration, and the prospects for a Republican comeback are clouded by polls showing the ranks of people calling themselves Republicans dropping to the lowest point in at least a quarter-century.
Many conservatives, particularly lawmakers, pushed back.
“She should be given the benefit of the doubt. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions, particularly with overheated rhetoric,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
“I will not use that kind of language,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on the nomination. “I think the right thing to do is ask what the law is and how she decided those cases and not use pejorative terms.”
In an open letter posted Wednesday on the conservative Web site Human Events, Gingrich said he was incensed by Sotomayor’s comment that, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
“My initial reaction was strong and direct, perhaps too strong and too direct,” Gingrich said.