Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did something on Sunday a bit unexpected: He urged his fellow Republicans to ignore calls for ideological purity within the party.
"Shrug them off," the conservative firebrand told CBS's "Face the Nation." "Reagan shrugged them off. Reagan was frequently attacked. I talked to Michael Reagan the other night, President Reagan's son, who pointed out that Reagan had done all sorts of things that were deviances from the conservative purity. But people knew in general he was a conservative. People accepted him as a conservative. And he built a very broad coalition."
The remarks illustrate the growing effort within the GOP to smooth the edges of its image. "My advice is that Colin Powell is a great American," Gingrich said. "I'm proud that he is a Republican. Dick Cheney is a great American. I'm glad both of them are Republicans."
The remarks also reflect one of two opposite schools of thought on how to resuscitate the Republican Party. The other, widely-held philosophy is that the GOP suffered electoral defeats over the past two cycles precisely because elected officials did not heed calls for ideological purity.
Gingrich's "shrug-it-off approach" seems more practical in theory than in practice. After all, the former Speaker himself has played a leading role in demanding certain litmus tests of Republican figures, whether it be on supporting tax cuts or opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. And as he contemplates making a run at the Republican nomination for president in 2012, the allure of appealing to the party's base seems likely to be more tempting than a lofty belief in ideological inclusiveness.
Even Gingrich's CBS appearance was not free of divisive rhetoric. In explaining his previous comments on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, he suggested her writing was "racialist."
When I did a Twitter about her, having read what she said, I said that was racist -- but I applied it to her as a person. And the truth is I don't know her as a person. It's clear that what she said was racist, and it's clear -- or as somebody wrote recently, "racialist" if you prefer.
Watch (via Think Progress):