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    The flip flop sweepstakes

    Now that the Republican race has evolved (or devolved) to a two-man tilt, the big question must be asked: Is Romney or Gingrich the more egregious flip-flopper?This is such a rich topic that it will take far more than the 900 words I’m devoting today. So much material, so little time. Indeed, for President Obama’s campaign team, this topic is sweeter than gamboling in a vat of Ghiradelli chocolate.But before picking the winner, we first need to acknowledge that politicians are not always wrong when they change their minds. Flexibility can be a good thing; rigidity (signing pledges, and unflinchingly hewing to the terms) can be a bad thing. Benjamin Franklin probably said it best, on Sept. 17, 1787: “Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”Ben’s caveat complicates the rules of our Romney-Gingrich contest, and forces us to define our terms. Undoubtedly, Romney and Gingrich would insist that all their policy switches have been triggered by “better information” and “fuller consideration,” but, for our purposes, we can safely assign the flip-flop label to any switch that appears to have been sparked by naked political calculation.Newt offers us a veritable treasure trove. For instance, he assailed Paul Ryan’s kill-Medicare budget proposal as “right-wing social engineering” – only to reverse himself and endorse it when the right-wing heat threatened to wilt him. He he agitated for U.S. intervention in Libya – only to insist, after Obama took action, that he would not have intervened. He insisted, as late as 2008, that Americans should be required to buy health coverage (the individual mandate) – only to declare, this year, that the health reform law, built on the mandate, is anathema to freedom. He cut an ’08 ad with Nancy Pelosi touting the climate change issue – only to lament, this year, that the ad was “the single dumbest thing I’ve done” and that “I actually don’t know whether global warming is occurring.” (This, despite insisting in 2007 that climate change is real, that humans contribute to it, and that “we should address it very actively.”)But Romney, as we all know, can match him flip for flop. His abortion stances alone are legendary: in 1994, he said that “since Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for 20 years, we should sustain and support it,” and in 2002 he reiterated that view, declaring that “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” – yet, in 2007, he was miraculously transformed: “The right next step in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.” Romney did a similar two-step on Ronald Reagan; in 1994, he said, “Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush,” but in 2010 he was miraculously born-again: “The principles that Ronald Reagan espoused are as true today as they were when he spoke them.” And there is so much more. In 2002, he said he would never sign a no-new-taxes pledge, but in 2007 he declared, “I’m proud to be the only major candidate for president to sign the tax pledge.” In 2011, he’s talking tough on immigration, and insisting that the illegals oughta pick up and go home (“I just don’t think that those who have come here illegally should be given a special pathway, a special deal”) – whereas, in 2006, he insisted it was nuts to make them go home (“We’re not going to go through a process of tracking them all down and moving them out”). Plus, his documented inconstancy on gun rights and gay rights…need I list more?These guys do deserve a measure of sympathy, however; most of their flip flops were engineered in response to pressure from the Republican right. Gingrich, a veteran provocateur who spouts 100 ideas a day, has been scrambling to bring himself in line with the increasingly rigid conservative orthodoxy (and the effort seems to be paying off). Romney, who ran as a Massachusetts moderate for the U.S. Senate in 1994, has been trying to make himself Correct ever since (and the effort has yet to pay off).So is it possible for us to pick a winner here?Yup, it’s easy. The more egregious flip-flopper is Romney. Here’s why:Gingrich, at least, enjoys authentic ties to the conservative movement. He’ll always have 1994, when he led the Republican takeover of the House, ending 40 years of Democratic rule in the chamber. So even though he has repeatedly performed verbal gymnastics for political purposes, conservative voters can give him a pass. Conservatives (and this is especially true of older voters), they can rightfully view him as one of them.Romney, by contrast, has no such foundational ties to the conservative movement. He launched his political career as a center-left Senate candidate in a blue state and he has been tweaking his way rightward ever since, forever seeking to re-brand himself in pursuit of the Republican market niche. Gingrich, despite his numerous zigs and zags, has an authentic conservative core; Romney does not. Romney’s flip-flops merely feed the perception (apparently shared by 75 percent of Republican voters) that he’s inauthentic, an empty suit.In short, Romney has a perceived character deficit. More than any other factor, that may explain why the erstwhile front-runner is now in pursuit of Newt. ——-

    And let’s remember the 2390 Americans who were lost at Pearl Harbor, 70 years ago today.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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