More on Flip Floppery

Ponnuru responds to my earlier post comparing the nature of Giuliani's and Romney's flip flops. He agrees that Romney has flip-flopped on more issues, but says I underestimate "how brazen Giuliani's flip-flop on partial-birth abortion was." Just to clear that up, I'll concede that his reversal on partial birth abortion was brazen, since when he opposed the ban in 2000 the whole life of a life of a mother exception wasn't even an issue. However, like I said, he still remains openly pro-choice and has been up front with other disagreements with conservatives.

To this, Ponnuru writes:

But Klein's aversion to flip-floppery has reached the perverse point where he essentially extols Giuliani's non-conservative positions as reasons for conservatives to support him, because at least he's sticking with them.

If your primary concern is electing somebody who has conservative views on social issues, I can see the argument for going with somebody who is at least saying the right things now over somebody who you know disagrees with you. Certainly when voting for a Senator or member of Congress it makes sense to vote on the basis of who agrees with you on more issues (at the end of the day, the vote is all that matters). In my view, however, when you're selecting a President, you're voting for a leader. How will this person respond to unexpected events? How will they deal with criticism? How will they confront a crisis? Will they buckle under pressure?

For me, at least, every other issue pales in comparison to fighting and winning the war on terrorism, and in my view Giuliani's leadership skills make him the best available candidate. One of my biggest fears is that the more distance we get from 9/11, the American public will have less stomach to fight terrorism, and we will go back to viewing it more as a manageable threat, leaving us vulnerable to future attacks. I really think it's important that we have a leader who not only says the right things about the war on terrorism now, but somebody who I can be confident will continue to feel the same way no matter what the latest poll says, no matter what the media is writing, no matter what the opposition party is howling about. Whether it was taking on the mob as prosecutor or fighting in a hostile environment to transform New York City as mayor, Giuliani has demonstrated an ability to stick to his guns under the most difficult circumstances, and to get things done. Of all the candidates, I feel the least worried that, say, a few years down the line, he'll be arm-twisted into appeasing Iran, or convinced to scale back the war on terrorism because people have lost interest in it. Were he to come out now and suddenly reverse his positions on every issue to make himself more appealing to conservatives, I think he'd be losing his greatest asset as a leader. The fact that he's holding on to inconvenient beliefs now gives me faith that he isn't driven exclusively by poll numbers, and that's a crucial quality for a wartime president to have.

Romney talks a good game now, but given that he has gone to such great lengths to tailor his views so they're perfectly suited for the Republican primaries, it makes me worried what he would do once in office when he is no longer beholden to conservative primary voters. Romney has no record on national security issues other than what he's now saying, so all we have to go on is his word. Given his history of political expediency, I worry if he were elected, what he'd be like in, say, 2011. Perhaps he'd suddenly be more interested in universal healthcare than hunting down jihadists. Perhaps not. But it’s a concern of mine. With Giuliani, I don't have that fear, and part of the reason is that, even though he's not above flip-flops, he's been up front and honest about many of his differences with conservatives.

So, I think my disagreement with Ponnuru is rooted in the fact that he's viewing the conversion vs. consistency question within the narrow lens social conservatism, whereas for me it raises the broader issue of what type of leader a candidate is likely to be.

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