Politicians are often accused of pandering to voters, of changing their opinions to fit the current political climate. Accusations of flip-flopping sank John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004, and the same problem doomed Mitt Romney in 2008 — and threatens to do it again this cycle.
But they were hardly the first politicians to engage in a sudden change of heart over key issues. Even honest Abe once reversed course on a central campaign promise.
And while the term “flip-flop” carries a negative connotation, it’s been proudly hailed as a positive characteristic by at least one president.
'Read my lips: no new taxes.'
So pledged George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention. That promise made for an excellent soundbite -- until Bush raised several taxes two years later as part of a budget compromise with Congressional Democrats.
President George Bush labelled rival John Kerry a serial flip-flopper throughout the 2004 election, noting that Kerry authorised the Iraq war but then campaigned against it. The Bush camp even put out an attack ad that listed off alleged Kerry U-turns while showing the Massachusetts Senator windsurfing back and forth.
Kerry did himself no favours when, while trying to explain his opposition to the final language in a supplementary war funding bill, uttered a line that would haunt the rest of his campaign: 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.'
While on the campaign trail in 1860, Abraham Lincoln often promised not to meddle in states' affairs, specifically on the issue of slavery. In his inaugural address, he repeated that vow, and added that using federal troops within the states would constitute the, 'gravest of crimes.'
Then the South seceded, and Lincoln launched the Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Richard Nixon ran hard against President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War in 1968, promising to bring the conflict to an 'honorable end.' Of course, once Nixon took office, he expanded the conflict so broadly that he's now more identified than Johnson is with the failed war.
Nixon's opponent in 1968, Hubert Humphrey, also had a Vietnam problem. Not wanting to break party ranks, Humphrey stood behind President Lyndon Johnson's bombing campaigns while in Congress. As the presidential election neared and Humphrey realised he needed anti-war support to win, he delivered a policy speech calling for an immediate end to those bombings.
Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't surge into office by pledging to enact anything close to the New Deal, the wave of huge government programs largely credited with rescuing the nation from the Great Depression. On the contrary, he actually campaigned on promises to roll back federal spending and cut extraneous government agencies.
Roosevelt proudly said he was willing to change his mind and try new things if old ideas didn't work. Roosevelt's opponent, incumbent President Herbert Hoover, offered a different opinion, calling FDR a 'chameleon on plaid.'
Newt Gingrich has already made two huge flip-flops in this election cycle.
In early March, as the U.S. sought international support to take action against Libya, Gingrich called for an immediate no-fly zone over the African nation. Two weeks later, once the U.N. and President Obama had implemented that no-fly zone, Gingrich said that were he president, he wouldn't have intervened at all.
Then in April, Gingrich said he supported the GOP budget plan, which included a complete overhaul of the Medicare program. Weeks later, he referred to that plan as, 'right-wing special engineering,' on Meet the Press. After his own party scolded him for that comment, Gingrich changed his tune again, saying that he did in fact support the GOP budget plan. He then bizarrely defended his waffling, saying that any ad quoting his criticism of the budget plan would be a 'falsehood.'
Early in the 2008 election, Barack Obama promised to accept federal financing for his campaign if rival John McCain did as well. Accepting public financing would have given Obama an automatic $84 million, but it would have also placed restrictions on his overall campaign fundraising and spending.
When Obama began to rake in unprecedented amounts of cash, he backed off his pledge, becoming the first candidate since 1976 (when modern campaign finance laws took effect) to do so.
In 1967, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan signed one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. Yet when he mounted his first White house run a decade later, he adopted a firmly anti-abortion position, endearing himself forever to social conservatives and future generations of Republicans.
Thomas Jefferson was so opposed to federal debt that he once proposed amending the Constitution to prohibit the government from borrowing money. He also supported a balanced budget amendment during the early years of his presidency.
However, when France offered to sell a huge tract of land to America, Jefferson saw a deal he couldn't refuse, and he agreed to issue federal bonds to pay for the Louisiana Purchase.
John McCain was one of only two Republican Senators to oppose President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, and one of only three to vote against Bush's tax cuts in 2003. McCain proudly touted those 'nay' votes as a badge of his fiscal conservatism, until 2006 when he voted to renew those same tax cuts.
Coincidentally, McCain's switch came right as he was laying the groundwork for his 2008 presidential campaign. Politifact rated McCain's newfound support of Bush's tax cuts a 'full flop.'
Mitt Romney has been accused of flip-flopping so often that his detractors produced flip-flops (the style of sandals) with Romney's name on them.
As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law a radical health care overhaul that required all residents to have health insurance. When he ran for president two years later, he denounced Democratic proposals to adopt a similar national model.
Now, with 'Obamacare' the scourge of conservatives everywhere, Romney has had to carefully tiptoe through semantics again to explain his Massachusetts mandate. Romney has also reversed his position on other hot button issues once he started running for president in 2007, including abortion rights and gay marriage, both of which he'd previously supported.
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