GOP dials down Nobel prize criticism

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    While top conservative media personalities and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele were quick to disparage Friday's surprise awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, the response from other corners of the GOP was considerably more muted.

    While top conservative media personalities and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele were quick to disparage Friday's surprise awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, the response from other corners of the GOP was considerably more muted.

    From the field of prospective 2012 presidential contenders to Capitol Hill, most Republican voices were careful to offer faint praise-or simply to keep their mouths shut.

    It was the rare occasion when many of the party's most prominent voices could agree that the most effective political response was none at all. The thinking was that there was little need to pile on since the decision to present the award- for which Obama was nominated within his first two weeks in office-seemed to speak volumes on its own.

    A senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill indicated that many top Republicans decided soon after the prize was announced that the wisest course of action was to remain silent and let people come to their own conclusions about whether or not the president deserved the award.

    "Being awarded the Nobel Prize with such a thin resume is embarrassing for the President and creates enough problems for the White House that Republicans don't need to pile on and end up sounding angry in the process," the aide said. "There should be one comment only, and that is, 'Congrats.'"

    It was a striking departure from last week's approach to the International Olympic Committee's snub of Chicago, when many in the GOP publicly reveled in the IOC's rejection of Obama's efforts and exposed the party to charges that Republicans were cheering against America.

    While Steele issued a statement questioning Obama's right to the award even before the President had stepped to the White House podium to accept the honor, the GOP chair was nearly alone among major party figures with his pointed criticism.

    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee predicted Friday morning that "there will be an outcry from those on the right who will say that Obama's nomination, made two weeks into his Presidency, is impossible to justify but I think such an outcry will sound like right-wing whining."

    "[T]he better response," Huckabee insisted, "is simply to allow those on the left to explain what he did in his first two weeks as President that merited such recognition."

    Soon after Huckabee's statement, Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on his weekly Minneapolis-area radio show that "regardless of the circumstance, any time someone wins a Nobel Prize, I think an appropriate response is to say congratulations."

    "I know there's going to be some people who are saying 'Was it based on good intentions and thoughts, or is it going to be based on results?'" Pawlenty continued. "But I think the appropriate response or an appropriate response is, when anybody wins a Nobel Prize, you know that is a very noteworthy development and designation and award, and I think the proper response is to say congratulations."

    Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did not respond to several requests for comment.

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who attacked the president last week for traveling to Copenhagen to lobby for the failed Olympics effort, declined comment.

    The party's 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain, was more forthcoming. During a taping of CNN's "State of the Union," the Arizona senator said that he is "sure the President understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we're proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category."

    His GOP Senate colleague, Orrin Hatch of Utah, expressed that he was "surprised" by the news, but nevertheless lauded Obama.

     

    "Whenever an American receives an important international honor, it reflects positively not only on the achievements of that individual but also on our nation as a whole," Hatch said. "So I am very pleased that President Obama has been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, and I commend him for it."

    But like Pawlenty, Hatch qualified his praise.

    "I must confess, though, that I am surprised that the honor did not go to someone like former President Bill Clinton, who has raised more than a billion dollars for international humanitarian relief," the Republican senator added. "Of course, conservatives never expect to receive such recognition. Even Ronald Reagan never received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War."

    While many commentators noted that the decision to award Obama was, at least in some part, a reflection of the European committee's antipathy toward former President George W. Bush-since 2002, award recipients have included Bush critics and opponents including former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Al Gore and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency-none of the former Bush administration officials contacted by POLITICO took a swipe at Obama or the committee.

    Asked if she would like to comment on the president's win, former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded: "Beyond offering my congratulations at this point, no."

    Not everyone in the party was singing from the same hymnal. But after Steele's initial outburst of criticism-he called the selection "unfortunate"-enabled the Democratic National Committee to immediately hit back by comparing the RNC chairman's reaction to the Taliban's official response to the news, criticism of Obama was largely relegated to the right-wing blogosphere and radio and cable television talk shows.

    GOP strategist John Weaver told POLITICO that party leaders remained quiet "probably because they know-focused by acute self interest-that people are not attracted to whiners and titty-babies."

    "Applaud when an American city loses an Olympic bid? Mock a president winning the Nobel Prize? This may play well on Glenn Beck's block, but it is a loser with the vast majority of American people," he said.

    GOPAC Chairman Frank Donatelli added that "the criticism for this curious choice belongs on the Nobel Committee that made the award. Republicans should focus on holding the president accountable for the lofty expectations that his campaign generated. His greatest achievements hopefully still lie ahead."