Mitt Romney, blessed with a series of self-destructing opponents, still needs to come up with a better way to address his history of flip-flops. His current argument boils down to asking voters, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying ears?" This is not going to fly.
Romney made the jaw-dropping claim to a New Hampshire editorial board that his problem wasn't flip-flopping -- it was being insufficiently robotic. "I've been as consistent as human beings can be," the former Massachusetts governor insisted. "I cannot state every single issue in exactly the same words every single time, and so there are some folks who, obviously, for various political and campaign purposes will try and find some change and draw great attention to something which looks like a change which in fact is entirely consistent."
Pressed during the CNBC debate last week, Romney repeated his consistency argument -- this time topped off with an ode to his long-lasting marriage and an attack on President Obama.
"I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy," he said. "I don't think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman for 42 years. I have been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. I think it is outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea, when you have in the Obama administration the most political presidency we have seen in modern history. Let me tell you this, if I'm president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America."
In court, this answer would be ruled non-responsive. Romney's ability to stick to a marriage longer than, say, Newt Gingrich or to keep a job is not what's at issue. The question, and it's a legitimate one for anyone who's spent even a glancing amount of time examining Romney's record, is whether he shifts ideological position with the political winds. Fidelity to one's marriage or one's religion says something about a candidate's character, but it does not deal with the flip-flop question. Neither does a jab, justified or not, at the opposition.
"I will never apologize for the United States of America" does not respond to the question: Why did you change your positions on abortion, gun control, gay rights, climate change, immigration -- even on Ronald Reagan?
If I were a Republican voter legitimately worried about Romney's ideological shape-shifting, I would be insulted by this attempt to change the subject.
Romney's failure to rise in the polls even as his opponents flail suggests that the flip-flop issue isn't going away. There's no magic solution to this problem. You can't give a speech on flip-flopping. But flip-flop denialism isn't going to work -- especially when it is so easy to go to the videotape.
Indeed, Romney has even flip-flopped on whether he's flip-flopped. In New Hampshire, Romney pointed to gay rights as "one of those areas where I've been entirely consistent," opposed to workplace discrimination but also against same-sex marriage. Yet appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" four years ago, Romney acknowledged changing his view on whether federal law should prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; he once supported federal protection, then said it should be a state matter.
"If you're looking for someone who's never changed any positions on any policies, then I'm not your guy," Romney said then.
Except, of course, when he is.