We all know what flip-flopping means and unfortunately it has become a universal pejorative. I think a genuine flip-flop on an issue, because events change or data proves you wrong or a new perspective shifts yours, is not a bad thing in a political life. It reveals a capacity to change your mind in public which is a hard, humbling but necessary thing to do from time to time.
But then there is a different version of it in which a politician goes out and says something quite clearly in public and is – often in the same day – contradicted by his own campaign. And so yesterday, in his latest incarnation, Romney insisted that he had no intention of any new anti-abortion legislation. Here's the Romney quote:
"There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
Here's what his campaign spokeswoman later said:
“Governor Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.”
Or take the question of covering pre-existing conditions as part of what Romney would keep in Obamacare. First up: the Romney statement from last week's debate:
"Pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan."
This is what his campaign said almost immediately afterwards:
When pressed whether Romney would require states to include a pre-existing conditions stipulation in their legislation, Fehrnstrom answered: "We will give the state initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own. But, of course, we'd like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage."
This isn't even close to the guarantee of coverage for those with pre-existing conditions in Obamacare. It's not in Romney's plan. It's a faint wish that states will do it anyway, even though we all know most won't and cannot, especially those with large numbers of uninsured people. So on two central issues – abortion and healthcare – Romney just lied so brazenly his own campaign had to reverse his position within hours to protect his right flank.
And this will be the pattern, one suspects: Romney will be a Massachusetts moderate in all the debates, while his campaign will then tell the GOP and the country that it's all an act to get that 51 percent. Then he'll do … well, no one has any idea what he'd actually do. If he can reverse his entire primary position in one debate, imagine how creative he could be in office. And at some point, that has to rattle the far right, no? Or do they just not really care as long as they win? After the way they behaved under Bush as he betrayed every conservative principle in sight, I think they only want to win.