"I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. Except when I don't."
This could be the campaign slogan for Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Both have predicated their presidential runs on their lack of political experience, which they insist allows them to speak bluntly and without the manufactured political correctness of other career politicians beholden to special interest groups and the Washington establishment.
This is a big turn-on for conservative voters, rightly fed up with politicians who have comically parsed the meaning of the word "is" and, not comically, refused to correctly attribute the ideological ownership of Islamic terrorism to Islamic terrorists.
As one participant put it in a now-famous focus group by Bloomberg and Purple Strategies in New Hampshire: Trump "says it like it is. He speaks the truth."
Carson, who has said that political correctness is "destroying our nation," enjoys a similar reputation as a straight-talker. The moment that made him famous, in fact, was when he surprised President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast to straight-talk the ills of Obamacare.
Straight talk is great. But, as I tell candidates running for public office, it's the perfect marriage of straight talk and discipline -- and knowing when to use which -- that make a winner.
Of course, neither Trump nor Carson seems to think much of discipline, leaving them only with straight talk, and lots of it.
So when they say one thing and then tell us they didn't mean it, you'd think their supporters would be outraged for breaking their solemn promise to say what they mean and mean what they say. If straight talk is their entire raison d'etre, shouldn't they stick to it?
They don't. The biggest appeal of Carson and Trump -- according to themselves and their supporters -- isn't based on anything real, just very good spin-doctoring.
Over and over again, Trump and Carson rewrite their own comments the way any other focus-testing politician would.
When the sentient world assumed Trump was describing Fox News host Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle when he said "blood was coming out of her ... whatever," he said No, no, no. He meant her nose, of course.
When Rolling Stone this week quoted Trump criticizing Carly Fiorina's appearance, he said he meant her "persona."
"Look at that face!" he said in the Rolling Stone piece. "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president. I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"
That's right. The word "face" -- twice! -- doesn't actually mean "face" in straight-talking Trumpland.
Carson doesn't have the bombast that Trump does, but he's just as uncommitted to his own straight talk.
After receiving serious backlash when he suggested the Second Amendment might not totally apply in big cities, he abandoned that talking point without explaining what he initially meant by it.
"For the record, let me make it extremely clear that I am extremely pro-Second Amendment and that I would never allow anyone to tamper with that right."
Similarly, he has said he believes life begins when the heart starts beating, and supports the use of abortifacients in cases of rape and incest. The very next week, though, he said he actually believed life started at conception and that he's opposed to abortion in cases of rape and incest. Those are two dramatically different positions, especially for a pediatric doctor who says the authenticity of his faith is actually what separates him from Trump.
Finally, remember that time Ben Carson said that being gay is a choice because "a lot of people who go into prison straight, and when they come out they're gay"? He later admitted that was a "boneheaded" thing to say. But anyone watching thatCNN interview could tell he couldn't wait to say it. Because he meant it.
These aren't just instances of changing positions -- which Carson and Trump have also done a lot of over the years. This is a continual case of saying one thing and then saying something completely different.
It's hard to see the straight talk in all this walking back and doublespeak.
We expect Jeb Bush to spend a week trying out the best way to phrase his position on the Iraq war. He's a politician. We expect Hillary Clinton to spend six months focus-testing the best response to her email scandal. She's a politician.
But I thought the thing that made Carson and Trump different (and why they're ahead in the polls) was their refusal to talk like politicians. Turns out that assertion is as credible as most of their others.