AWKWARD…. GOP leaders like Michael Steele and John Cornyn are none too pleased to have so many of the party’s most prominent voices using offensive, insulting, and bigoted attacks against Sonia Sotomayor. But if you think they’re in a difficult spot, imagine being a Republican strategist responsible for Hispanic outreach.

“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.”

Sosa certainly knows what makes the Hispanic voter tick. He has helped with or worked on seven Republican presidential campaigns since 1980, including John McCain’s and both of George W. Bush’s. He was joined in his lament by several other Hispanic strategists who spoke to the Huffington Post. Even those Republican Hispanics who have served in government said they were deeply worried about the Sotomayor pushback, though they cautioned that it was coming almost entirely from outside the party establishment.

That last point — it’s the party’s activists, not the party’s establishment that’s smearing Sotomayor — is a very tough sell. Clowns like Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Rove may not hold elected office or maintain official roles in the party, but they clearly have positions of power and authority in the Republican Party (Cornyn hasn’t cancelled Gingrich’s big fundraiser for the NRSC, for example).

Besides, as we talked about yesterday, most Americans are unlikely to make a distinction between Republican activists and Republican officials. When the activists smear the first Latina nominee for the Supreme Court, it’s the latter that will feel the electoral repercussions. The takeaway is “Republicans attack Sotomayor, using bigoted tactics.” It’s not much of a defense to say, “Yeah, but Gingrich is only a GOP leader, not a GOP official.”

What’s more, there’s the further complication that Republicans responsible for Hispanic outreach are not only insulted, and not only cut off at the knees, but they’re now less likely to appear in the media to criticize Sotomayor. Why? Because they’re probably not looking forward to hearing reporters say, “I’d like to get your reaction to the following ridiculous attacks your Republican brethren have directed at Hispanics this week….”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.