Mitt Romney, blessed with a series of self-destructing opponents, still needs to come up with a better way to address his history of flip-flops. Romney made the jaw-dropping claim to a New Hampshire editorial board that his problem wasn’t flip-flopping — it was being insufficiently robotic. “I’ve been as consistent as human beings can be,” the former Massachusetts governor insisted. “I cannot state every single issue in exactly the same words every single time, and so there are some folks who, obviously, for various political and campaign purposes will try and find some change and draw great attention to something which looks like a change which in fact is entirely consistent.”
Pressed during the recent CNBC debate, Romney repeated his consistency argument — this time topped off with an ode to his long-lasting marriage and an attack on President Obama. “I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy,” he said. “I don’t think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman … for 42 years. I have been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. … I think it is outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea, when you have in the Obama administration the most political presidency we have seen in modern history. … Let me tell you this, if I’m president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America.”
In court, this answer would be ruled nonresponsive. Romney’s ability to stick to a marriage longer than, say, Newt Gingrich or to keep a job is not what’s at issue. The question, and it’s a legitimate one for anyone who’s spent even a glancing amount of time examining Romney’s record, is whether he shifts ideological position with the political winds.
“I will never apologize for the United States of America” does not respond to the question: Why did you change your positions on abortion, gun control, gay rights, climate change, immigration — even on Ronald Reagan? If I were a Republican voter legitimately worried about Romney’s ideological shape-shifting, I would be insulted by this attempt to change the subject.
Perhaps, given the weakness of the opposing candidates, Romney can still skate by. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is nearly finished. Voters don’t want to see Mr. Oops — or Mr. Giddy in New Hampshire — negotiating with a foreign leader. Former Godfather’s Pizza chairman Herman Cain is one data-point of corroboration away from imploding. Even if nothing more emerges to bolster the substance of the sexual harassment allegations against him — and two financial settlements plus an on-the-record allegation seems too much to disbelieve — his ham-handed handling of the story is nearly disqualifying on its own.
As to the notion that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could emerge as the anti-Romney — that’s hard to imagine. Gingrich’s attack-the-media-at-the-first-opportunity strategy is not going to get him very far even with Republican primary voters. He makes Romney look like the guy you want to hang out with. But Romney’s failure to rise in the polls even as his opponents flail suggests that the flip-flop issue isn’t going away. Flip-flop denialism isn’t going to work — especially when it is so easy to go to the videotape.
Indeed, Romney has even flip-flopped on whether he’s flip-flopped. In New Hampshire, Romney pointed to gay rights as “one of those areas where I’ve been entirely consistent,” opposed to workplace discrimination but also against same-sex marriage. Yet appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” four years ago, Romney acknowledged changing his view on whether federal law should prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; he once supported federal protection then said it should be a state matter.
“If you’re looking for someone who’s never changed any positions on any policies, then I’m not your guy,” Romney said then. Except, of course, when he is.