A new ad released by Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign this week is notable for what it calls Mitt Romney: a flip-flopper.
Even as the attacks in the presidential campaign have been ramped up, the flip-flopper charge that was lodged so frequently against Romney in the 2008 campaign has taken a back seat this time.
Sure, his opponents have still painted him as someone who used to be more liberal (or moderate), but that verbiage – “flip-flopper” – hasn’t been used nearly as much by his opponents. And even where it has been, it hasn’t landed with the same amount of force.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, time heals all wounds. The benefit of running for president twice is that you have already been vetted once, and when you run again, whatever sins were prosecuted the first time become suddenly less applicable.
Whether fair or not, the media loses interest in old news, and repeating old reports about how Romney has changed his positions on social issues just isn’t as sexy as it once was.
In addition, whatever positions Romney changed, they are now four years further in the past. There’s no statute of limitations on being a flip-flopper, of course, but the longer you are consistent after changing your positions, the more comfortable people will become with you. That’s just reality.
Second, his opponents aren’t exactly immune to the charge. Paul aside, a few of Romney’s top opponents could be open to the very same flip-flopper charge.
In fact, a new ad from the super PAC supporting Romney tries to attach that “flip-flopper” label to Newt Gingrich, noting he has “flipped” on a number of issues, including “immigration, Medicare, health care, Iraq, attacking Mitt Romney, and more.”
Gingrich has acknowledged he has changed positions on issues such as the individual health insurance mandate and climate change, and those are pretty big issues. In fact, it could be argued that Gingrich has suffered more from his flip-flops than Romney (after all, who is falling in the polls?).
Similarly, Rick Perry recently changed his position on abortion to become more restrictive and himself has a long record to explain. And as someone who used to be a Democrat (he switched parties in the late 1980s), it’s harder for Perry to cast someone else as a political opportunist.
Lastly, the flip-flopper charge isn’t terribly easy to execute. Look no further than Perry’s tortured attempt to explain Romney’s flip-flops at a September debate:
“Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of -- against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it -- was before -- he was before the social programs from the standpoint of -- he was for standing up for Roe versus Wade before he was against verse -- Roe versus Wade? ”Okay, maybe it’s not quite that difficult, but it still requires a lot — namely, establishing that the person held one position a while back and now holds a diametrically opposed position.
The reason the flip-flopper charge worked so well against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race is because he essentially admitted it himself — i.e., “I voted for it before I voted against it.” And it worked well against Romney in 2008 because his record wasn’t as well-established nationally, and this was the first many people were hearing of it.
Most politicians are good at talking around incongruent positions and casting doubt on charges of flip-flopping; Romney in particular has pretty effectively explained away areas where he has (ahem) evolved.
And again, even if these alleged flip-flops are broached again and again, there’s simply not the same appetite in the media for them, so they may not get covered in the same way.
Instead, it seems, Romney’s opponents have been more focused on painting him as the author of a health care bill that was the roadmap for President Obama’s health care bill and someone who got rich off other other people’s misery at Bain Capital.
Sure, Gingrich and others have pointed to Romney’s more left-ish past, and Gingrich continues to call him a “Massachusetts moderate.”
But the word that so dogged Romney and another Massachusetts politician before him — “flip-flopper” — seems to have been neutered so far in the 2012 presidential campaign.