On Flip-Flopping

Patrick Ruffini writes a defense of flip-flopping, arguing, essentially, that it shouldn’t matter because candidates are locked into the positions they take during a campaign, and cites Bush I & II as well as Clinton as examples of presidents governing more or less the way they ran. I disagree with Ruffini’s historical analysis, as well as his general defense of flip-floppery.

Conservatives may have known Bush the elder was no Reagan, but he sounded pretty convincing when he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” And he lied. Bill Clinton also called for a middle class tax cut, but reversed himself shortly after taking office. I’m sure I could think of plenty more examples of presidents going back on promises that were central to their campaigns.

My problem with flip flopping is that the pressure presidents are under is so great that I want to elect a leader who I know has a strong set of bedrock principles that will remain solid no matter what the challenges of office. If a politician has a long track record of doing just what is politically expedient, I don’t know whether I can rely on that leader during tough times. Especially during a time of war.

This doesn’t mean that a politician can never change his or her mind on any issue ever. Circumstances change, human experience changes, and it’s perfectly healthy for people to constantly reevaluate their own views. Also, when a politician is campaigning, he or she is asking for the votes of a particular consitutiency, so there’s a certain back and forth, a certain level of accommodation that we can reasonably expect to take place. However, when the level of flip-flopping reaches a certain point, I think it is a problem.

So, in the context of the current Republican nomination battle, I think we have to differentiate between the type of policy shifts being displayed by most of the field, and Mitt Romney, who deserves a category all to himself. Romney’s political opportunism, his utter phoniness, the sheer quantity and magnitude and timing of his shifts, is simply without parallel. So, I have no reason to believe that he won’t undergo another transformation down the road.

Honestly, after conservatives spent two successive campaigns arguing that the Democratic nominees couldn’t be trusted to run the country because they were flip floppers, it’s surprising that we would even be having this debate.

General Rudy

ROCKVILLE, Maryland — Jerry Katzoff admires Rudy Giuliani for reducing crime and improving the quality of life in New York City as mayor, but before the presidential candidate addressed a synagogue in this Washington suburb on Tuesday, the Silver Spring resident told me he had some reservations.

“I personally am a little concerned about his views on the federal government,” said Katzoff, who has been a federal civil servant for 37 years.

He was referring to Giuliani’s pledge to replace only half of the 42 percent of federal employees who are scheduled to retire over the next 10 years, a move that would trim the government’s workforce by 20 percent, and — according to Giuliani’s estimates — save $70 billion a year. During the question and answer session, Katzoff had the opportunity to confront Giuliani on his proposal.

“Do you really believe that such a diminished federal workforce can respond to the increased domestic and foreign demands placed upon it over the next several years?”

While some politicians may have responded by thanking Katzoff for his service, or launching into an ode to government employees, Giuliani responded in his typically direct manner. “I have no doubt that we will not only be capable of doing it, but we will do it better,” he said. Giuliani used the example of how he improved the New York City hospital system while reducing the workforce by 12,000 to back up his point. “To say that you’re going to look for something like a 20 percent reduction over 10 years in the size of the massive workforce, what it means is you’re going to force your managers to become more efficient. You’re going to force them to figure out the simple proposition that every American business has to figure out: How can we do more with less?”

What struck me about Giuliani’s response was not that I had never heard it before, but that I had — at a speech he delivered to the Heritage Foundation last month. In fact, his remarks to the conservative audience at Heritage touched on many of the themes that he addressed to a largely Democratic Jewish audience at Rockville, Maryland’s B’nai Israel Congregation.

During both speeches he reiterated his pledge to stay on offense against terrorism, reconstructed the history of the 20th century to emphasize the danger of not recognizing threats early enough, blasted Democrats for living in denial about the threat of terrorism, praised Ronald Reagan repeatedly, and warned against withdrawing from Iraq. Earlier in the day, he addressed Pat Robertson’s Regent University, in a highly anticipated speech to evangelicals, and his remarks were quite similar, according to news accounts.

This made one thing abundantly clear: Giuliani is running his campaign with his eyes on the White House, not just on capturing the Republican nomination. While Mitt Romney is tailoring his message to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states, Giuliani is developing a message that can win him the nomination in such states as Florida, New York, New Jersey, and California, and easily carry over into the general election.

“YOU’VE GOT TO BE REALISTIC if you want to lead,” Giuliani said at the event sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, criticizing Democrats for being in denial about the nature of the threat we face. “You have to lead from cold, hard facts, not fantasy. If you can’t say the words, ‘Islamic terrorist,’ then you have a hard time figuring out who is our biggest enemy in this world.”

Moving on to current events in the Middle East, he said that “What happened in Gaza, I believe, is a microcosm of what will happen in Iraq if we listen to the Democrats and we precipitously leave with a staged, timed, planned in advance withdrawal.” Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, he said, a civil war ensued and the territory became controlled by a radical terrorist group. In Iraq, a U.S. withdrawal would lead to a Sunni-Shiite civil war that would spread to the entire region.

As for dealing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said that America should heed Reagan’s admonition to trust, but verify. “We should try with a sense of steely realism and not such a great desire for peace that we’ll agree to anything,” he said. That was the mistake the Clinton administration made when it negotiated with Yasser Arafat, Giuliani said, drawing applause when he reminded the audience of when he booted Arafat from Lincoln Center in 1995.

Giuliani also suggested that America should deliver the following message to Iran: “We’re going to use sanctions, we’re going to use negotiations…we’re going to use new ways to pressure you from becoming a nuclear power. But here’s the bottom line: You are not going to be allowed to become a nuclear power. No how, no way, it’s just not going to happen.”

BENJAMIN GILMAN, A FORMER Republican congressman from New York who retired in 2002, attended the event, sporting an “I’m with Rudy” button. “I like his attitude on terrorism and I like what he’s saying about Israel,” Gilman said. “I think he has the kind of demeanor and the qualifications that will make a great president.”

When he was reelected mayor in 1997, Giuliani received about 70 percent of the Jewish vote against Ruth Messinger, and if he is the nominee, he has a chance to do better among Jews than any Republican candidate since Reagan, which could mean the difference in Florida and New Jersey, and make him competitive in New York and California.

The reaction of this Maryland crowd suggests an opening exists, but he’ll face his share of hurdles.

“He did a wonderful job, and I thought he was extremely charismatic,” said Sandra Handloff, who along with her husband Barry is a Democrat who would consider voting for Giuliani. However, they had hoped he would talk more about other issues, such as healthcare and education.

Another woman, who said she had lived in New York City when Giuliani was mayor, said before the speech that she was not a big fan. “I wasn’t very thrilled with him when he was mayor,” she said. “He was very authoritarian and he alienated many communities in New York City….He favored very harsh police tactics, always defended them against any opposition, any criticism.” She declined to provide her name.

At that point, a man in the row in front of her jumped in, imploring me to be fair and balanced. “I am a registered Jewish Republican, so I am a rarity in this room,” said the man, Marc Barinbaum of North Bethesda, who is still undecided but sympathetic to Giuliani. “Rudy gets it on terror. Rudy knows there is a War on Terror. Many people in this room I know don’t get it that there is a War on Terror. Rudy cleaned up New York. Rudy will continue to keep this country safe.”

Card Check Blocked

While much of the attention is currently on immigration, Senate Republicans deserve credit for blocking so-called “card check” legislation that would have made it easier for organized labor to intimidate workers into joining unions by denying access to a secret ballot. I wrote about the issue back in February.

1972 Redux?

Richard Cohen believes that the Democratic Party may shoot itself in the foot by choosing a presidential nominee who caters to the anti-war left the way George McGovern did in 1972:

Will history trump the polls? It will if, as in the past, the Democratic Party so wounds itself fighting the war against the war, it nominates a candidate beloved by a minority but mistrusted by a majority. It has happened before.

Even though I am a supporter of the Iraq War, I think this analysis is overly simplistic. Last fall, when Ned Lamont won the primary, the hawks (including yours truly) were celebrating the return of the McGovernites. But it turned out that opposition to the Iraq War had really become mainstream enough to fuel the Democrats’ November landslide. In 1972, both candidates believed in ending the war in Vietnam, but Nixon offered a way to do it honorably. In 2008 we face the prospect of having a Republican candidate who supports staying in Iraq and Democratic candidate who is promising to bring the troops home. That’s a tough spot for the GOP to be in. With that said, I do not think the Republicans are doomed in 2008, but I think the result will have to do more with the eventual match up than the Iraq War.

Re: Weird Op-Ed

The column ends up being more or less a trite analysis of the Republican presidential contest, in which Giuliani, McCain, and Romney are rejected for various reasons in favor of Fred Thompson.

I’m not sure how it would actually help any presidential candidate to become vice president at this point. Not only would whoever is chosen become associated with the President Bush’s unpopular administration, but he or she wouldn’t have much time to do anything of significance by the time the primary rolls around. It may make sense for a second tier candidate who has nothing to lose to accept the position, but I don’t see how it would benefit Thompson. Meanwhile, if Bush were ever to replace Cheney, given what we know about his presidency, he’s much more likely to tap his inner circle–by promoting Condi Rice for example–than reaching for an outsider. If nothing else, it would certainly make Dick Morris happy.

McCain on WRTL

Hot off the presses:

ARLINGTON, VA – This afternoon, U.S. Senator John McCain issued the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission:

“While I respect their decision in this matter, it is regrettable that a split Supreme Court has carved out a narrow exception by which some corporate and labor expenditures can be used to target a federal candidate in the days and weeks before an election.

“It is important to recognize, however, that the Court’s decision does not affect the principal provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which bans federal officeholders from soliciting soft money contributions for their parties to spend on their campaigns.

“I am grateful to the Bush Administration and all those lawmakers, both past and present, who have joined us in our efforts to put an end to the corruption bred by soft money. Fortunately, that central reform still stands as the law.”

Again, a problem for McCain that his reaction to the decision is the exact opposite from the reaction of most conservatives.

Re: Gilmore

Quin, you’re right about Gilmore deserving credit for bringing up property rights. It’s also a smart move politically. When we hosted Gilmore at one of our Newsmaker Breakfasts, one of his problems was that he was too general, and lacked any sort of signature issue that traditionally is necessary for a bottom-tier candidate to gain traction. Anger over eminient domain abuse unites Republicans of all stripes, and is a 90-percent issue among the general public, yet the other candidates have been pretty silent about it. If Gilmore adopts this as his issue, and begins to talk about it every chance he gets, let’s hope some of the top-tier candidates begin to give it serious attention.

Broder’s Man

Yesterday’s David Broder column was the one everybody was expecting on Michael Bloomberg’s potential candidacy. In it, he proves that once you rise to prominence in punditry, you get to make all sorts of silly arguments without backing them up with the smallest drop of empirical evidence, or logic. I think this one paragraph captures better than any other the flawed reasoning that is fueling media euphoria over the prospect of Bloomberg jumping in the ring:

Early polls show that Bloomberg would start out well behind Clinton and Giuliani in a three-way race. Nonetheless, there is plenty of room for Bloomberg in the picture. Polls consistently show that large numbers of Americans — close to a majority — are unwilling to consider Clinton for president, and Giuliani is painful medicine for many Republicans to swallow.

Now, presumably, the Republicans who consider Giuliani “painful medicine” are social conservatives who find Rudy too liberal on too many issues that are important to them. Why on earth would they vote for Bloomberg, who is not only liberal on social issues, but also a tax hiker who is a question mark on foreign policy? It makes no sense. Broder evidently thinks that the mere existence of voters who are dissatisfied with the current two frontrunners means that Bloomberg has a chance to capitalize, but he doesn’t offer any argument for what Bloomberg would offer these constituencies other than being called an “independent.”