Did Republicans have no choice but to nominate a serial flip-flopper like Mitt Romney? Perhaps so.
David Karol has an interesting post at the Monkey Cage in which he argues that Romney’s “very inconsistency was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for his success in capturing his party’s presidential nomination this year.” But I think it goes further than Karol suggests. It’s not just that Romney had to switch his positions to be a credible potential nominee. I would argue that any Republican presidential nominee today would have to be a serious flip-flopper.
And here is the reason.
The Republican Party has been moving to the right very quickly in recent years. Almost no one taking the stances that Romney is taking now could have been elected as a senator or a governor from most states just a few years ago. So, if you were consistently conservative (like, say, Bachmann or Santorum), you were either doomed to service in the House or to being kicked out of the Senate. If you had a presidential résumé, conversely, it was probably because your views were pretty moderate a few years ago. Arguably, the only person who can get nominated in the current Republican Party is someone who has pivoted to the right rapidly in the past decade. Rapid polarization makes flip-flopping a necessity.
If flip-flopping is the necessary trait for a nominee of a political party that has pulled a hard right in recent years, then a Mitt Romney would have to be created if he did not already exist. They would have to have put together a soulless creature that could effortlessly move from, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” to “I am firmly pro-life” and “The right next step in the, in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.”
From “Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush” to “The principles that Ronald Reagan espoused are as true today as they were when he spoke them.”
From “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” to “Obamacare is bad news … and if I’m president of the United States I will repeal it.”
From “I just signed a piece of legislation extending the ban on certain assault weapons” to “I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature.”
From “I’m not willing to sit back and say too bad for Michigan, too bad, too bad for the car industry” to “That’s exactly what I said…. ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’”
From “I think there is need for economic stimulus…” (2009) to “I have never supported the President’s recovery act, all right, the stimulus, no time, nowhere, no how.” (2011)
That is some serious flip-flopping and only possible from a man who at heart is a serial liar. But then again, in the immortal words of George Costanza, it’s really not a lie if you believe it.
(The Romney source photograph is a Creative Commons licensed image from photographer Gage Skidmore.)