A top Senate Republican is taking aim at recent statements from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich suggesting Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a "racist."One can appreciate Cornyn's dilemma.
"I think it's terrible," Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday. "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent.”
Both the popular radio host and former GOP House Speaker have suggested Obama's pick for the high court is a racist while referencing a 2001 speech at Berkeley during which Sotomayor said, "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."
As chair of the NRSC, his job is to get Republicans elected to the United States Senate. Any mammal with its brainstem intact can figure out how hard that will be if the GOP continues to alienate moderate, independent, and Hispanic voters with the racist spittle spewing from the mouths of Limbaugh, Gingrich, Tancredo, and their ilk. The right-wing reaction to the Sotomayor nomination has been deranged. Elected Republicans have been trying their best to step softly around their desire to oppose a Democratic nominee while not appearing to oppose the first Latina nominee. The base isn't making it easy for them, to say the least.
But there is stepping softly, and then there is stepping into the lion's den. That's what Cornyn did by criticizing Limbaugh on National Public Radio, of all places. Conservatives consider NPR enemy territory. What Cornyn did yesterday was a lose-lose, a massive strategic error. The GOP base will interpret it, correctly, as an attempt to appeal to centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans by visiting the so-called liberal media to express his disapproval of the unhinged rantings of Limbaugh and Gingrich. The problem is that he won't win over anybody who isn't already on his side, and he will infuriate the base by appearing to betray conservatism itself.
Cornyn has already triggered fury among right-wing blogs and other elements of the base by endorsing Charlie Crist in the 2010 Florida senate race. The right-wingers want ultra-conservative Marco Rubio to get the nomination. They are apoplectic that the NRSC took sides in the Republican primary. They have even started a movement called Not One Red Cent to punish the senatorial campaign committee by starving it of funds.
Cornyn is insane if he thinks these people will be open to persuasion about the need to appear reasonable in order to win elections. That's what happens when you spend 25 years obliterating the very idea of nuance. It is not available to you when you need it.
I expect that Limbaugh will savage Cornyn during his broadcast today. By the time the sun goes down, the good senator's office will issue a "clarification" of his remarks. That's if he doesn't call in to the program to beg for Limbaugh's forgiveness in person.