That’s not much of a walk-back

THAT’S NOT MUCH OF A WALK-BACK…. Newt Gingrich became one of the leading faces for ugly attacks on Sonia Sotomayor last week, so much so that some leading Republicans felt the need to distance themselves from the disgraced former House Speaker.

Today, Gingrich kinda sorta backpedaled. But not really.

My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct. 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 (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).

Given this, Gingrich is getting at least some credit for walking back his initial smear.

But let’s not go overboard patting ol’ Newt on the back. I suspect Gingrich recognized the political problems associated with his over-the-top rhetoric, so he made today’s concession to improve his abysmal credibility.

That does not, mean, however, that the former Speaker has turned over a more sensible leaf. For one thing, his efforts to rope in Obama and Gibbs as allies is wildly misleading.

For another, the rest of his lengthy, 1,700-word column features one ridiculous attack after another — including baseless arguments that Sotomayor bases her rulings on racial preferences. Indeed, the piece reads like a greatest-hits package of far-right nonsense.

So, before Gingrich claims too much credit for coming to his senses, it’s worth doing what too many conservatives have refused to do — consider the context.

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Steve Benen

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.