On a day when the White House responded to try and defuse talk-radio host and talk radio political culture Republicans’ escalating rhetoric and charges that President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a “racist,” there were growing signs that part of the GOP is now trying to extricate itself from the talk radio political culture.
At stake: the party’s iimage and the impact of nuclear-option verbiage on Republican prospects in future elections.
On one side of the split: conservative talk show super star Rush Limbaugh, who has turned up the heat so much that his microphone must be melting, comparing Sotomayor to KKKer David Duke (suggesting that Limbaugh has not read much about Duke’s life narrative or his actual pronouncements). Also on that side: talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who continued the Limbaugh-initiated assault (Limbaugh started the “racist” charge and other GOPers…as is the custom…fell in line) and also added:”Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate” — adding gender mockery to the politically poison mix.
Add to that: former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has joined the group of GOPers engaging in talk radio style rhetoric: take a quote, expand on it, exaggerate it if necessary — then and push the rage and anger buttons to activate voters and/or listeners.
And, of course, Karl Rove, the architect of much early 20th century demonization, slash and burn politics, who used his analytical skills to suggest that Sotomayor was “stupid.” His quote:
Karl Rove – the genius who sent his candidate to an un-winnable state in the closing days of the closest presidential race in American history – isn’t sure Sonia Sotomayor is smart.
Rove explains: “I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.”
On the other side of the split: a growing number of GOPers who are associated with the party’s elected members or mainstream media commentator wing. This includes:
*Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee — both unhappy with this kind of rhetoric (responding to Gingrich).
*Former GOP speech writer and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, whose column is worth quoting profusely here:
“Let’s play grown-up.” When I was a child, that’s what we said when we ran out of things to do like playing potsie or throwing rocks in the vacant lot. You’d go in and take your father’s hat and your mother’s purse and walk around saying, “Would you like tea?” In retrospect we weren’t imitating our parents but parents on TV, who wore pearls and suits. But the point is we amused ourselves trying to be little adults.
And that’s what the GOP should do right now: play grown-up..
The New York Post’s front page the day after her announcement said it all: “Suprema!” with a picture of the radiant nominee. New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.
Some, and they are idiots, look at Judge Sotomayor and say: attack, attack, kill. A conservative activist told the New York Times, “We need to brand her.” Another told me a fight is needed to excite the base.
Excite the base? How about excite a moderate, or interest an independent? How about gain the attention of people who aren’t already on your side?
The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog. Comment-thread conservatives, like their mirror-image warriors on the left (“Worst person in the woooorrrlllddd!”) are perpetually agitated, permanently enraged. They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist. Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.
Read it in its entirety.
*RNC Chairman Michael Steele who, in a notable about face, was trying to eschew anger-generating rhetoric about the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court:
In what seemed like an effort to distance the party from claims that Sotomayor is “racist” and an “Affirmative Action” pick, Steele repeatedly said that Republicans should be hailing the historic nature of Obama’s pick.
“I’m excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position,” Steele said. He added that instead of “slammin’ and rammin’” on Sotomayor, Republicans should “acknowledge” the “historic aspect” of the pick and make a “cogent, articulate argument” against her for purely substantive reasons.
Steele warned that because of the attacks, “we get painted as a party that’s against the first Hispanic woman” picked for the Supreme Court.
“We don’t need to play this the way the Democrats have played it in the past,” Steele said, adding that Republicans can’t do this because they don’t have the “liberal media” on their side, the way Dems did. Said Steele: “MSNBC will rip everything we have to say up into shreds.”
(Will Steele have to apologize to Limbaugh again?)
*Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer:
What should a principled conservative do? Use the upcoming hearings not to deny her the seat, but to illuminate her views. No magazine gossip from anonymous court clerks. No “temperament” insinuations. Nothing ad hominem. The argument should be elevated, respectful and entirely about judicial philosophy.
On the Ricci case. And on her statements about the inherent differences between groups, and the superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture and background grant her over a white male judge. They perfectly reflect the Democrats’ enthrallment with identity politics, which assigns free citizens to ethnic and racial groups possessing a hierarchy of wisdom and entitled to a hierarchy of claims upon society.
Sotomayor shares President Obama’s vision of empathy as lying at the heart of judicial decision-making — sympathetic concern for litigants’ background and current circumstances, and for how any judicial decision would affect their lives.
Since the 2008 election, people have been asking what conservatism stands for. Well, if nothing else, it stands unequivocally against justice as empathy — and unequivocally for the principle of blind justice.
Why the emerging split?
It could be that the talk radio political culture with its predictable response of demonize, discredit, characterize, exaggerate and raise the anger level of listeners has begun to alarm thoughtful conservatives.
It could also be because polls are showing the GOP seems to be in a lose (lose the nomination fight) lose (lose a large chunk of voters) situation in the Sotomayer battle. To wit:
1. A Quinnipiac poll offers danger signs for the GOP — and some for the White House as well:
A new Quinnipiac poll finds that a majority of Americans approve of President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.
With Obama’s Supreme Court Justice pick still pending approval by the Senate, the national survey found that 54 percent support the pick and 24 percent disapprove, with 22 percent undecided. The poll surveyed 1, 438 registered voters nationwide.
The poll finds stark differences of opinion based on political party affiliations. Over 80 percent of Democrats approved of Sotomayor while the Republican approval rate was 46 percent. Fifty percent of independents also approved.
The Quinnipiac Poll also asked whether Mr. Obama’s nomination was influenced by Sotomayor’s ethnicity and whether that should be a deciding factor over legal qualifications. The poll found that Americans seem to believe that nationality played a rather important role in Mr. Obama’s decision, with 34 percent deeming it as “very important” and 36 percent calling it “somewhat important.”
As for agreeing with such influences, 60 percent of participants think that legal qualifications should be considered above diversity when deciding on a Supreme Court justice. Eight percent said diversity was more important, and 29 percent said both were equally important.
2. A Gallup Poll finds that Americans generally give her high marks:
Americans’ first reactions to the news of President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court are decidedly more positive than negative, with 47% rating the nomination as “excellent” or “good,” 20% rating it “only fair,” and 13% rating it “poor.”
These results are based on a one-night poll conducted Tuesday, the same day Obama officially announced Sotomayor as his choice to replace the retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Gallup conducted similar reaction polls immediately after former President George W. Bush’s nominations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court in 2005. Although in all instances, the reactions were more positive than negative, the net positive rating (the percentage excellent or good minus the percentage only fair or poor) was highest for Roberts and Sotomayor, and lowest for Alito and Miers.
3. A Rasmussen Reports poll chronicles the expectations games: it is widely believed that she will be confirmed:
Eighty-seven percent (87%) of voters nationwide believe Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. That figure includes 59% who believe her confirmation is Very Likely.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just five percent (5%) say her confirmation by the Senate is unlikely.
Forty-five percent (45%) favor confirmation of Sotomayor, who, if approved by the Senate, will be the first Hispanic member of the high court. Twenty-nine percent (29%) oppose her confirmation, and 26% are not sure.
Most Democrats favor confirmation while most Republicans are opposed. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 41% favor confirmation, and 29% are opposed. Hispanic voters favor confirmation by a 66% to 15% margin.
And the worst news for the GOP?
Yet another Rasumussen poll suggests Obama has received a polling bounce for picking Sotomayor:
President Barack Obama is enjoying a bounce in the polls following his selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court nominee.
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 37% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Obama is performing his role as President. Twenty-seven percent (27%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +10. That’s the first time the President Index rating has reached double digits since March 31 (see trends).
Meanwhile, Obama moved yesterday to take the verbal sword away from talk show hosts on the “racist” front:
President Barack Obama called criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor “nonsense” Friday, telling NBC News that while Sotomayor would probably rephrase her eight-year-old comments on race, she would be “a good judge.”
In an exclusive interview with Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” Obama said it was important to look at “the entire scope” of Sotomayor’s comments in a speech in 2001 at the University of California Law School.
A “win” for the GOP? Not exactly, because it came on a day when there was this report:
Top-ranking Republican strategists who specialize in Hispanic outreach say they are outraged, disturbed and concerned by the type of reception Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court has received from conservative activists.
In the days since the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, several prominent conservative voices have leveled unusually blunt attacks at her resume. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and radio host Rush Limbaugh both insisted that the court of appeals judge was a racist for saying that her Hispanic background allowed her to come to better judicial decisions. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, on Friday, called Sotomayor a member of the “Latino KKK.”
The rhetoric has been enough to make Republican strategists in heavily Latino states cringe — concerned that such slights could cement Democrats advantages among a growing and increasingly influential political constituency.
“Of course this disturbs me,” said Lionel Sosa, one of the more influential Hispanic media advisers in the GOP. “I’m not surprised at Rush Limbaugh but I’m very surprised at Speaker Gingrich because he is one of the key people who knows the importance of the Latino vote to the Republican Party. He must realize how his rhetoric, if it does influence any Hispanics, how damaging it could be. This [confirmation] is something that is going to happen anyway. For a senator to have strong opposition to her, they are either not aware of the impact Latinos will have on the next election or they don’t care.”
There’s a lot more, so read the report in its entirety.
Put it altogether and what does it suggest?
It suggests that although many non-conservative Republicans, Democrats and independents have long contended that talk show hosts and the way they frame debate had become the tail that was wagging the Republican elephant, the front of the elephant that contains actual brain matter and not just a tail that wags to the far right has started to rebel. It’s a rebellion in favor of returning (on this issue at least) to more traditional, thoughtful, substantive if still serious and passionate debate.
FACT: Unless there is some major revelation about her, Sotomayor will win confirmation. The politico pros and those who have written about politics for years by doing analysis comprised of more than name calling and hot button pushing see the writing on the wall. FACT: The GOP needs to gain Hispanic voters or at least not lose more of them in upcoming elections. FACT: winning political parties build coalitions by aggregating interests; talk show hosts win, keep and deliver to advertisers audiences by aggravating some interests and packaging outrageous pronouncements with outrage.
The split is interesting because it pits those who want a bigger tent against those who like the tent the way it is or want to screen those who get into the tent. It also pits Republicans who are willing to see issues with more nuance against those who reduce issues to Us/good Them/bad with little in between.
It’s the return of nuance. Like swine flu, it seems to be becoming contagious — particularly, in the case of the Sotomayor nomination, in some parts of the Republican party.
Most notably, in the parts of the party that want to win future elections.
The cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner, is licensed to appear on TMV. . All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
UPDATE: The LA Times looks at this aspect, too:
Reporting from Washington — While prominent conservative activists are hurling epithets at President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, more and more Republicans are telling them to chill out.
Senior senators and GOP strategists are trying to steer the debate over Sonia Sotomayor away from the apocalyptic battle cries of conservative icons Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh in favor of a more measured conversation about the legal philosophy and qualifications of the first Latino to be nominated to the court….
….The GOP is struggling to recover from brutal election losses that shrank its reach beyond the Southern conservative base. Some worry that fighting a shrill, losing court battle will not help — may indeed hurt — efforts to rebuild the party.
“Whether or not Barack Obama gets his nominee is not going to determine the future of our party,” said Terry Holt, a former advisor to George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. “He’s a popular president with the votes to confirm his nominee. That’s not our best fight or our worst problem to deal with.”
Said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster, “Any kind of ad hominem attacks are not helpful to the party’s reputation , certainly not in attracting independents, which is our challenge at the moment.”
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.