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September 29, 2011 8:35 AM Romney addresses his Achilles’ heel

By Steve Benen

Last week, in one of the more amusing political claims of the year, Mitt Romney boasted, “I stand by my positions. I’m proud of them.” Given Romney’s record of abandoning every policy position he’s ever taken, it was hard not to marvel at his shamelessness.

But NBC’s First Read reports from New Hampshire, where Romney took a different line on one of his biggest vulnerabilities.

In the town hall of 250 people … Romney addressed perceptions and concerns that he is “a flip flopper.”

“In the private sector,” he said, “if you don’t change your view when the facts change, well you’ll get fired for being stubborn and stupid. Winston Churchill said, ‘When the facts change I change too, Madam. What do you do?’”

That’s different from what he said a week ago, when he said he doesn’t change positions.

The American people “can tell when people are being phony and are pandering to an audience,” he said, “and you’ll see that in politics. You’re not going to see that in my campaign.”

Wait a second. Mitt Romney is flip-flopping on flip-flopping? How very meta of him.

That said, does Romney — at least this new version of Romney — have a point? Doesn’t it make sense that someone would change their views when the facts change?

In general, this is persuasive. There’s nothing inherently offensive about a political figure changing his or her mind once in a while. Policy makers come to one conclusion, they gain more information, and then they reach a different conclusion. That’s a good thing — it reflects a politician with an open mind and a healthy intellectual curiosity. Better to have a leader who changes his or her mind based on new information than one who stubbornly sticks to outmoded policy positions, regardless of facts or circumstances.

But this only works when there are sincere changes of heart. It’s something else entirely when pandering politicians reinvent themselves, sometimes more than once, as part of a cynical, calculated ploy. This isn’t indicative of an open mind; it’s evidence of a character flaw.

Romney would have voters believe that he’s simply adapted to changing facts. The circumstances make this impossible to believe — his radical transformations, purely by happenstance, just happen to coincide with political expediency to further Romney’s ambitions? The parallels between his metamorphoses and the shifting political winds are an accident?

Please. The list of Romney flip-flops is just too long, and covers too much ground, to be a remarkable coincidence. There’s nothing remotely sincere about his repeated reinventions. The guy has demonstrated a willingness to flip-flop like no other American politician in a generation.

Indeed, can anyone name a single issue of any significance in which Romney has been consistent? Anything at all? I don’t mean generic platitudes — he’s “pro-freedom” or wants “a strong military” — I mean actual public policies. The fact that this question is challenging for the former governor’s campaign speaks volumes.

I’m perfectly comfortable with a politician pondering doubts and questioning whether he or she is right about an issue. But when a politician changes his views so fundamentally that he’s adopted several different worldviews in a fairly brief time span, is it really unreasonable to question the man’s integrity?

Update: Aimai notes that Romney didn’t even get the “when the facts change” quote right.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • jdog on September 29, 2011 8:39 AM:

    Romney's potential constituency has changed. That is the "fact" that has led him to alter his positions. Isn't that what a good businessman would do?

  • j on September 29, 2011 8:41 AM:

    I wonder if he will flip flop on his latest words of wisdom - per think progress
    Romney would re-evaluate our relations with any country that would support a Palestinian state, that is a lot of countries that he says should be punished, I think it would include his second home France where he hid out as a Mormon missionary to avoid Viet Nam.

  • bjh on September 29, 2011 8:43 AM:

    It was John Maynard Keynes, not Winston Churchill, who said “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?” But Mitt wouldn't be caught dead quoting that Keynsian Keynes. Anyway, Mitt doesn't wait for new information; any shift in the winds is enough for him.

  • Grumpy on September 29, 2011 8:45 AM:

    That’s different from what he said a week ago, when he said he doesn’t change positions.

    LOL!

    Naturally, the facts regarding flip-flopping have changed: GOP primary voters don't like 'em. That makes the decision easy for Romney. What would be harder would be explaining which facts caused him to change his positions (including his position on whether he changes). Unless the answer is, "The fact that I'm running in a GOP primary."

  • c u n d gulag on September 29, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Mitts not a flip-flopper.

    He's a rotary engine!

  • Danp on September 29, 2011 8:50 AM:

    As far as I know, he's never changed his hair style. That has to count for something.

  • walt on September 29, 2011 8:52 AM:

    Shorter Romney spin: he may be a flip-flopper but he's OUR flip-flopper. Implacable ideologues on the right have only one real principle - winning - and if it means pro-actively changing positions according to the venue, so be it.

    Now, dust off that GOP ad from 2004 showing John Kerry windsurfing. Photoshop Romney's head, and you've got your first effective attack ad of the campaign.

  • wishIwuz2 on September 29, 2011 8:59 AM:

    jdog - campaigning is more salesmanship than anything else. Altering positions based on a changing constituency is what a good salesman would do. Good business philosophy should not be so fickle.

  • T2 on September 29, 2011 9:00 AM:

    "unreasonable to question the man’s integrity?"
    come on man, the guys a Republican - there's no integrity left.

  • FRP on September 29, 2011 9:12 AM:

    quoteinvestigator.com

    In 1945 an anecdote about Keynes and Churchill was published in Life magazine. Keynes was depicted as someone who was known to change his mind on economic questions [MKLF]:

    Keynes is always ready to contradict not only his colleagues but also himself whenever circumstances make this seem appropriate. So far from feeling guilty about such reversals of position, he utilizes them as pretexts for rebukes to the less nimble-minded. Legend says that while conferring with Roosevelt at Quebec, Churchill sent Keynes a cable reading, “Am coming around to your point of view.” His Lordship replied, “Sorry to hear it. Have started to change my mind.

    This should settle that then .

  • bleh on September 29, 2011 9:13 AM:

    To the public, it's all about "character." Kerry was a limp French-speaking flip-flopper, while Bush was a ramrod-strong man of principle.

    Romney would now like to position himself as a wise and seasoned leader, principled but practical. The challenge will be to shift that ever so slightly to sneaky empty-suit double-dealer.

    Note, by the way, that none of these things have anything to do with facts, or specific actions, or behavior in particular situations.

  • FRP on September 29, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Eggszacktly , the devolution of policy debate into a bloodbath .

  • Anonymous on September 29, 2011 9:20 AM:

    "Last week, in one of the more amusing political claims of the year, Mitt Romney boasted, “I stand by my positions. I’m proud of them.” "

    In a massive outbreak of irony, next week Romney will claim that "I do not stand by positions, and am extremely proud of it."

  • bob t on September 29, 2011 9:29 AM:

    So Romney has just given the ok to ask him in each case what specific facts on the ground caused him to change his mind. So ask him. Over and over.

  • Trollop on September 29, 2011 9:52 AM:

    He was flipping when flopping wasn't cool.

    Craptcha is militant size queen:
    iedsize was

  • Dave on September 29, 2011 9:59 AM:

    And the fact is that now I'm running for President.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on September 29, 2011 10:02 AM:

    But when a politician changes his views so fundamentally that he's adopted several different worldviews in a fairly brief time span, is it really unreasonable to question the man's integrity?

    Only when the politician is a democrat and anyone (like Mo Dowd) says he is a flip-flopper!

  • SadOldVet on September 29, 2011 10:13 AM:

    re c u n d galag...

    Mittens may or may not be a rotary engine! A good number of years ago I had a Mazda with a Wankel (rotary) engine in it.

    The Mazda body fell apart, but the engine was extremely reliable. Mittens may be a rotary engine because the rotary engine was so reliable that it may still be running somewhere. We should expect Mittens to be still running in 2016 and probably in 2020!

    The Mazda rotary engine could be run (seemingly forever) above 9000 RPM. Mittens may not be a rotary engine for that reason. The Wankel rotary engine was unbelievably consistent and Mittens definitely does not match that.

  • c u n d gulag on September 29, 2011 11:49 AM:

    SadOldVet,
    By comparing Mitt, I meant to cast no aspersions on the Mazda motor.
    My sincere apologies!

  • Mr. Peace on September 29, 2011 12:36 PM:

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