“And there's no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences.”
— Former governor Mitt Romney on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2011
Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem. Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment. The story line has been advanced by his opponents, in both parties, but also in the media. Take a look at this wicked cartoon by our colleague Tom Toles, in which Romney tells an elephant dressed as Santa Claus: “What would you like me to ask for?”
Of course, politicians have every right to change their minds. An inflexible attitude is not always the sign of an effective leader. But too many flips without enough explanation may give voters pause. In Romney’s case, many of his moves have been from the left — when he was governor of Massachusetts — to the right, as he has run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now the Democratic National Committee has assembled some of its best evidence of Romney-as-flip-flopper in a four-minute video ad. The DNC helpfully provided a detailed explanation of where each clip came from (see below), and we have picked through them to see whether the flip-flop charge holds up. We give a Pinocchio rating to each claim, in the order in which it is made in the commercial.
“Opposed the stimulus … after he was for it”
Romney, Sept. 28, 2011: “I have never supported the President’s recovery act, all right, the stimulus, no time, nowhere, no how.”
Romney, Jan. 4, 2009: “I think there is need for economic stimulus...”
This is a stretch. The transcript of the 2009 interview (on CNN) clearly shows that Romney is talking about economic stimulus in general. In fact, he says that he wished a stimulus bill was passed before George W. Bush (then still the president) left office.
That’s different from saying he would support what emerged as Obama’s stimulus plan. Romney told CNN that “it has to be something which relieves pressure on middle-income families. I think a tax cut is necessary for them as well as for businesses that are growing. We’ll be investing in infrastructure and in energy technologies.”
Obama’s stimulus plan included some tax cuts, but it was more heavily weighted toward spending. On this charge, the DNC gets
“Pro-Choice … Anti-Choice”
Romney, Oct. 29, 2002: “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose”
Romney, Dec. 16, 2007: “The right next step in the, in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.”
Romney admits he changed his mind on this critical social issue. The question is whether you think he did it for political reasons or because he genuinely changed his mind because of what he learned during a debate over stem-cell research. Our colleague Kathleen Parker looked into the story and concluded “this was at least a flip-flop of the highest order.” National Public Radio came away with a more skeptical take.
“Against Reagan … For Reagan”
Romney, Oct. 25, 1994: “Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
Romney, May 25, 2010: “The principles that Ronald Reagan espoused are as true today as they were when he spoke them.”
Ah, the difference of campaigning for a Senate seat in Massachusetts and running for the Republican presidential nomination.
In 1994, during a feisty debate with Sen. Edward Kennedy (go to the 41:40 mark), Romney was trying to rebut Kennedy’s claims that he was espousing economic policies akin to Reagan's. (During the same debate, if you look at the 10:20 mark, Romney also declares that “since Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for 20 years, we should sustain and support it.”)
Thirteen years later, Romney was speaking at the Reagan library, where of course he would lavish praise on the Gipper. Different political moments, different political miens. We don’t see anything fishy about how the DNC used these clips. This is a clear flip-flop.
“Health Care: Then … Now”
Romney, June 24, 2009: “Well, that’s what we did in Massachusetts, and that is, we put together an exchange, and the president’s copying that idea. I’m glad to hear that.”
Romney, Oct. 18, 2011: “Obamacare is bad news ... and if I’m president of the United States I will repeal it.”
Romney has been relatively consistent in saying that the health-care law he passed in Massachusetts was not necessarily right for the rest of the nation.
In the first clip used by the DNC, which was drawn from a CBS interview, Romney was critical of Obama’s possibly including a public insurance option in the emerging national plan. As far we can tell, he never indicated support for Obama’s legislation.
In this section of the ad, the DNC actually doesn’t say he flip-flops (the titles say “then… now”) but it certainly leaves that impression by preceding this section with a Jay Leno joke. We had earlier looked into this issue when Texas Gov. Rick Perry made similar claims, and gave Perry three Pinocchios. The DNC earns the same.
Romney, Oct. 18, 2011: “I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life.”
Romney, 2 minutes, 14 seconds later: “We hired a lawn, a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there.”
From the context of the discussion during a GOP debate (see the 9:00 mark), we suspect Romney in the first quote meant “knowingly” hiring an illegal immigrant, since a few minutes later he explains the situation.
But given that the two statements occur just minutes apart, readers can judge for themselves. We won’t make a ruling here, but clearly Romney was wrong to make such a categorical statement, given how this issue had loomed large in the 2008 campaign.
“Global warming … or not”
Romney, June 3, 2011: “Well, I believe the world is getting warmer.... I believe that humans contribute to that.”
Romney, Oct. 27, 2011: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”
These statements were just months apart, and as far as we can tell, Romney’s policies on energy did not change.
But in answering questions from voters about man-made climate change, he once omitted a reference to saying that humans were part of the problem. After a controversy erupted about the second set of comments, his spokeswoman told the Boston Globe: "Governor Romney’s view on climate change has not changed. He believes it’s occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn’t know to what extent.”
We try not to play gotcha. Given that his spokeswoman immediately restated the position the Romney originally expressed, we are inclined to believe he did not change his position, especially since his book “No Apology” (page 227) also made clear that he believed that “human activity is a contributing factor.” The DNC earns
“Will not sign [no-tax] pledge…. Then he did”
CNN Voiceover, March 28, 2002: “Republican Mitt Romney says he will not sign a no-new-taxes pledge.”
Romney, Oct. 5, 2007: “I’m proud to be the only major candidate for president to sign the tax pledge.”
This is a bit of ancient history, dealing with Romney’s governorship and his first run for the presidency. They also involve two different pledges — one by a Massachusetts group, Citizens for Limited Taxation, and then one by Americans for Tax Reform, a national group.
But in both cases, Romney made a big show of his position — first in refusing to sign a pledge and then being the first to sign one. He clearly changed his position on such pledges.
“For assault weapons ban … against assault weapons ban.”
Romney, August 4, 2004: “I just signed a piece of legislation extending the ban on certain assault weapons.”
Romney, Jan. 24, 2008: “I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature.”
More ancient history, but astute listeners will catch that there is a real difference in Romney’s statements. In the first case, he supported an extension of an existing bill. The legislation was also a compromise that had won the support of pro-gun groups because, as Romney quoted one group, it would make “regular weapons more available to our citizens.”
In the second statement, made during a debate, Romney said he would not support any new legislation — after first noting that he had signed a similar bill in Massachusetts that had won the support of gun groups. He also noted that he would have signed the assault weapons bill if it had come to his desk as president. (Then-president George W. Bush said he would have signed the bill, but he did not fight hard for it, and the ban died after 10 years.)
Romney’s comments during the debate (see below) provide a bit of a “huh?” moment since in the space of a few seconds he seems to contradict himself. (It is striking how much poorer a debater he was four years ago.) But Romney seems to be making a distinction between a new law and an extension of an existing law. The DNC, by removing his words of support for the old law, leaves a misleading impression.
“TARP: Yes … No”
Romney, Jan. 28, 2010: “TARP got paid back and it kept the financial system from collapsing.... It was the right thing to do.”
Romney, Dec. 6, 2009: “TARP ought to be ended.”
This section involves a very misleading selection of clips about the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which George W. Bush signed into law to address the 2008 financial collapse.
The DNC actually reverses the order of the quotes, putting a later comment ahead of an earlier one. In the 2010 quote, Romney makes it clear that while “TARP was bad politics,” it was the right thing to do in 2008 in order to stabilize the financial system. In other words, it is a historical comment.
In the 2009 quote, he is complaining that TARP had outlived its purpose and that “we've got hundreds of billions of dollars there that is being used as a slush fund” by the Obama administration. That is a different matter entirely.
Romney, Jan. 14. 2008: “I’m not willing to sit back and say too bad for Michigan, too bad, too bad for the car industry.”
Romney, June 3, 2011: “That’s exactly what I said.... ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’”
We had earlier explored Romney’s statements on the auto bailout, giving him two Pinocchios for suggesting that the Obama administration, after wasting billions of dollars, had reached the same conclusion he did on the need for taking the auto companies through bankruptcy court.
But the DNC also plays games here. The first statement came in the midst of the 2008 campaign, when he criticized Sen. John McCain for saying auto jobs “were never coming back.” As we noted in our earlier article, Romney in a speech at the time said: “I am not open to a bailout, but I am open to a work out.”
This position is entirely consistent with Romney’s later call for a “managed bankruptcy,” though as we said, he pushed the envelope when he argues that Obama followed his suggestion.
The Pinocchio Test
So, out of 10 items, we find only three correct, one uncertain, and then six that result in a total of 15 Pinocchios. On an average basis, that means 1.5 Pinocchios, but we have never quite decided whether one should grant extra points for correct statements. So we will round down to one.
For this kind of ad, three correct statements out of 10 is unusual. The question for voters, of course, is whether the three real flip-flops say anything important about Romney’s character.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker