Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backed down on Wednesday from his earlier remarks calling Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist -- in large part, it seems, out of concern about the political implications of attacking the first Latina Supreme Court nominee on those lines.
His counterpart in that effort, however, is staying true to his words. Rush Limbaugh led his show on Wednesday by insisting that his words on Sotomayor "have not been too strong," adding later, "I'm not retracting it."
At one point, remarkably, the brash radio host said he could see himself supporting Sotomayor's nomination, provided that she had the right position on social issues.
"I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination if I can be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life in a legal sense," said Limbaugh, who added that if Obama's nominee would overturn Roe v. Wade, it would be "huge" and enough for him to rethink his opposition. "I don't know if it will ever happen," he concluded.
That said, Limbaugh did not back away from some of the more controversial remarks he has made about Sotomayor to this point. Saying that he had "just heard [about Gingrich's remarks] before the program started," he claimed to have his "own theory about what Newt's doing."
"But since I'm not doing it," he said, "I'm not going to comment. I'm not retracting it. Nobody's refuted it. You know, they're out there saying 'It's too harsh. It's distracting, Rush. You're calling -- don't want to use the word.' Why? If the word means something and if it fits, I use it. Now they may say 'Don't say it, Rush. Dial it back a little bit' but nobody's saying I'm wrong. Nobody's saying I'm making it up. I mean, when she says that she'd do a better job than a white guy, what is it? It's racism. It's reverse racism, whatever but it's still racism. She would bring a form of racism, bigotry to the court."
Later in the program, he was even more definitive. "I have not retracted my charge that she's a racist and a bigot," he said. "I have not eaten my words. You're missing the fundamental part of this. Gosh, this is -- she's a pro-life racist."
Media Matters has the video:
The remarks from Limbaugh come just hours after Gingrich published an op-ed for the conservative site Human Events in which he acknowledged that his "initial reaction" to Sotomayor "was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice."
Clearly, elected officials in the Republican Party are acutely aware that the early, heated, rhetoric on Sotomayor had a danger of seriously alienating Hispanic voters. It's not a surprise, therefore, that Gingirch, who has ties to the GOP political establishment, backed away from his remarks while Limbaugh, whose connections to elected Republicans is much more limited, has not.