Political Animal


November 18, 2011 12:40 PM The weakest flip-flop defense yet

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney and his campaign team have experimented with different responses to questions about his incessant flip-flopping. At different times, they’ve argued that the reversals don’t really exist, and if they were real, they wouldn’t much matter anyway.

Today, we see a new one: Team Romney is rolling out the I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I defense.

Romney’s team lists several examples of Obama’s contradictions. The president promised to fix the economy, and he didn’t. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and he didn’t. He promised a White House based on transparency, devoid of the influence of special interests. The unfolding Solyndra scandal, to them, proves that’s not the case.

I know I’m supposed to think Romney and his advisers are the serious ones, worthy of some modicum of respect, but this silliness is really no better than the kind of nonsense we’d get from Michele Bachmann.

For one thing, the economy is improving, but if it weren’t, it’d be a policy failure, not a flip-flop.

For another, President Obama still wants to close Gitmo, and would were it not for Congress. The president’s position hasn’t changed at all, and for Romney to think of this as a “contradiction” suggests the Republican campaign has forgotten what the word means. Want to call it an unfulfilled campaign promise? No problem. But a flip-flop? No.

Finally, there is no Solyndra “scandal,” and this White House at least as transparent, if not more so, than any American history.

But the overarching problem is that Romney thinks he can draw some parallel between his own flip-flops and Obama’s. That’s not only wrong, it’s a ridiculous strategy — if the race comes down to which candidate is more consistent in his positions, the president should win re-election with 538 electoral votes.

Ben Smith makes an effort to point out issues on which the president has changed his mind, and to be sure, there are some legitimate examples. In fact, Smith missed a big one: Obama used to be against the public option individual mandate, before switching.

But in each instance, we see Obama making minor moves between the left and the center-left. The president never completely reinvented his entire political worldview; his shifts were subtle and nuanced.

Is there anyone — outside of Romney’s payroll and/or immediate family — who thinks Obama is in Romney’s league? Of course not. The Republican frontrunner has, after all, taken both sides of the question on whether it’s all right to take both sides of questions. His reputation as a shameless, craven politician who’s flip-flopped like no other American politician in a generation is well deserved.

Conservative columnist George Will recently slammed Romney as “a recidivist reviser of his principles,” who seems to “lack the courage of his absence of convictions.” As the campaign progresses, we keep getting more examples of this. If Romney’s team seriously wants to compare this record to the president’s, I suspect Obama for America would be delighted.

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.


Post a comment
  • Holmes on November 18, 2011 12:50 PM:

    It doesn't need to be said, but a day doesn't go by without Politico proving it is an awful publication.

  • c u n d gulag on November 18, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Maybe Mitt is a flip-flopper because he has no memory as a result of someone on his staff stealing his internal hard-drive?

    Literally - not the one on his PC, but HIS internal hard-drive.

    He always looked like an android to me. Too perfect looking by half.

  • 2Manchu on November 18, 2011 12:53 PM:

    When you use the "everybody does it" argument, aren't you really saying "I'm just as bad as the other person"?

  • Danp on November 18, 2011 1:04 PM:

    aren't you really saying "I'm just as bad as the other person"?

    Yes, and that that is good enough for someone in my position. It's disgraceful and a mantra with Republicans.

  • Ron Byers on November 18, 2011 1:05 PM:

    The other day I watched a person mount a defense to his speeding ticket by telling the judge that other people were speeding too. To which the judge responded "so?"

    Even if they could find Obama in a few flip flops and so far I haven't heard any, that wouldn't excuse his utter lack of true beliefs and the courage and integrity to stand up for them.

  • slappy magoo on November 18, 2011 1:10 PM:

    A Republican's claims never have to be proven, never have to be factual. They just need to be MADE, and the media makes it a proven fact by repeating it until everyone knows it's the truth.

  • merl on November 18, 2011 1:11 PM:

    If Romney is already running against Obama, he must be convinced that he will be the Repub nominee

  • robert waldmann on November 18, 2011 1:11 PM:

    When you wrote "Obama used to be against the public option, before switching" did you mean "Obama used to be against the individual mandate, before switching" ?

    I don't recall him ever being against the public option, but I do recall reading about him arguing with Clinton and Edwards that a mandate wasn't needed (thus brilliantly sacrificing his integrity on the 11 dimensional chess board -- and I mean that -- I don't care about his integrity and I'm glad he put the fear of God and regulatory reform without a mandate in AHIP).

  • Rabbler on November 18, 2011 1:12 PM:

    Does it matter what a president thinks, if congress has all the power or does that only apply to Democratic administrations?

  • delNorte on November 18, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Having an open mind and being willing to change your opinion when confronted with a compelling argument is a sign of maturity.

    Romney is the opposite of that - he has no real opinion to begin with - he simply panders to whoever happens to be his audience. Kissing ass is not the same thing as honestly wrestling with reality.

  • Danp on November 18, 2011 1:23 PM:

    "Obama used to be against the individual mandate, before switching"

    There's a difference between a flip-flop and a compromise. Obama couldn't get a health care bill passed without a mandate, and compromising is perfectly consistent with his opinion that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good. I think it was the same with the public option.

  • Gandalf on November 18, 2011 1:25 PM:

    If George Will is against Romney then he must have some redeeming value. It pains me to say that but Will is such a complete weenie that anything he's against must be good.

  • spiny on November 18, 2011 2:02 PM:

    Obama isn't a flip-flopper? Seriously, there are people here who think that Obama hasn't broken campaign promises? What planet do you live on? And really, don't you think that saying one thing during your campaign but doing the exact opposite (like say the mandate, Guantanamo, the "free" trade agreements that were recently signed, drug re-importation, presidential war powers with respect to Libya, etc...) is a bigger problem than "flip-flopping" on a sound bite? And I certainly would count Guantanamo as a change in position for the president because he expended exactly zero political capital to move the issue and then stuck his head in the sand once it was clear that holding accused (or not) terrorists extra-judicially was the "popular" position.

    The issue for Romney is that he can't really can't make hay with the president's change in positions because Obama shifted from progressive positions to more "conservative" ones, while Romney shifted from moderate positions to the more radical positions that define the base of the current Republican party. The last thing Romney is going to do to try to win the Republican nomination is to point out what a good, traditional Republican conservative president Obama really is.

  • mikem on November 18, 2011 2:08 PM:

    If I were good at creating videos, I would show a male gymnast doing a tumbling run and the last shot would be the gymnast raising his arms up on the finish, with Romney's head superimposed on the gymnasts body.

    would love to see that!

  • Matt on November 18, 2011 2:47 PM:

    This is not even GOP Strategy 101. This is covered in the pre-remedial course you have to take before they'll let you take the placement test for GOP Strategy 101.


    Mitt "the human weathervane" calls him a flip-flopper. Neo-secessionist Rick Perry hints that Obama is treasonously selling us out to foreigners. Gingrich says Obama doesn't have the "temperament" to be president. If she were a better candidate, Michele Bachmann would probably be suggesting he was insane.

  • chi res on November 18, 2011 3:06 PM:

    Continues to amaze me how many folks don't understand the basics of what it has taken to get reasonable policies passed by Congress over the past two years.

    Why look for someone else to blame when republican obstructionism is so obvious and so absolute? Because you want Democrats to lose in 2012?

  • Chrome on November 18, 2011 5:34 PM:

    "Is there anyone — outside of Romney’s payroll and/or immediate family — who thinks Obama is in Romney’s league?"

    Do the moderate Americans think Obama is a flip-flopper? Not IS he. Not do YOU or progressives ( i.e. those who are already committed to either voting FOR Obama or AGAINST whatever Republican is nominated ). The question is ... do the 13% of the public that is in play think so?

    If so than the question is :
    When choosing between flip-floppers who do you choose? One who succeeded or the one who is a miserable complete failure?
    If you want success - even with flip-flops vote Romney.
    If you want failure AND flip-flops, by all means vote Obama.

    ( Note : the 13% in play is based upon 42% strongly disapprove of Obama plus the 20% strongly approve + the 25% approve, since in all likelihood, Obama's "soft" approval is Progressives or Union members who wish he would go FARTHER -- these won't vote Republican.
    42+20+25 = 87% leaving 13% in play. )

  • Ed Drone on November 18, 2011 7:27 PM:

    "this White House at least as transparent, if not more so, than any American history."

    If you want transparency, how about Mitt's missing hard drives in Massachusetts? Now, THERE'S TRANSPARENCY! You can see right through those public-property computers!

    Of course, that's not what's usually meant by "transparency."


  • Jenny on November 18, 2011 8:29 PM:

    Ben Smith is a real piece of shit.