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Newt flips after his Twitter message draws fire

Newt Gingrich was criticized by some Republicans for his comment about Sotomayor. Newt Gingrich was criticized by some Republicans for his comment about Sotomayor.

Newt Gingrich was criticized by some Republicans for his comment about Sotomayor.

By Catharine Richert June 3, 2009

Editor's Note: This is the first time we've deployed the Flip-O-Meter for a statement made on Twitter. It's truly a new era in political discourse as long as the discourse can be contained in a 140-character tweet.

One week after calling Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a racist through a tweet to his Twitter followers, Newt Gingrich says he is retracting the comment.

It all started on May 26 when President Barack Obama named Sotomayor his nominee for the nation's highest court. Conservatives quickly seized on her comment from a 2001 speech that she hoped 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." The comment, they contended, showed Sotomayor would take race into account when making judicial decisions.

Gingrich, a Republican who is a possible presidential candidate in 2012, joined the chorus of conservative critics the morning of May 27 with this tweet: "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism." (sic)

Ten minutes later, he followed up with this: "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

Other prominent Republicans echoed those sentiments. Rush Limbaugh called her a "reverse racist," and former Congressman Tom Tancredo said on MSNBC that "she appears to be a racist."

Republican senators, meanwhile, were more measured. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that his committee "will engage in a fair and thorough examination of Ms. Sotomayor's previous judicial opinions, speeches, and academic writings to determine if she has demonstrated the characteristics that great judges share: integrity, impartiality, legal expertise, and a deep and unwavering respect for the rule of law."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, went so far as to tell National Public Radio that Gingrich and Limbaugh's comments were "terrible" and that they were "not helpful under any circumstances."

Now, a little more than a week later, Gingrich is changing his tune.

"My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct," Gingrich wrote June 3 on the conservative Web site Human Events. "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. With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."

Gingrich isn't backing down completely. "Sotomayor's words reveal a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system — that everyone is equal before the law," he wrote.

Still, he's done a full 180 on his boldest criticism and the one that has been repeated countlessly by the media. He called her a racist and is now retracting that comment, which earns a Full Flop.

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Newt flips after his Twitter message draws fire