MITCH MCCONNELL’S BUSY SCHEDULE…. Like most top Republican officials, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is aware of some of the ugly vitriol against Sonia Sotomayor coming from his side of the aisle. Yesterday, he did his best to dodge it. (TP has video.)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN Sunday he disagrees with conservative commentators who have labeled Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a racist, but said he has better things to do than be “the speech police.”

“Look. I’ve got a big job to do dealing with 40 Senate Republicans and trying to advance the nation’s agenda, and better things to do than be the speech police over people who have their views about a very important appointment,” McConnell told CNN’s John King on State of The Union. “So I’m not going to get into policing everybody’s speech.”

As it turns out, I’m not sure if he does have “better things to do.” The smears coming from prominent Republicans — some in elected office, some not — run the risk of doing long-term damage to McConnell’s party. Indeed, given last week’s vitriol, many are watching to see how GOP leaders deal with this debate. It’s not unreasonable to think the a Republican leader would be well served making it clear to the public that he sees lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

But McConnell has “better things to do.”

What’s especially odd about this is that others have been willing to do what McConnell is not. Late last week, Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tried to put some distance between the party and the activists trying to smear Sotomayor. RNC Chairman Michael Steele did the same on Friday. Just yesterday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also kept Limbaugh/Gingrich rhetoric at arm’s length. None of them has been “policing everybody’s speech,” but they nevertheless seem anxious to let voters know they’re not entirely comfortable with some of the right’s rhetoric of late.

So, why isn’t McConnell willing to offer similar rebukes?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.