Newt Gingrich's flip-flops

Flip-flopping is an old charge in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. Mitt Romney has some explaining to do about health care, and Newt Gingrich seems to have back-flipped on Libya.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the Conservative Principles Conference Saturday, March 26, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa.

If there’s a classic in the genre of political flip-floppery, it must be Sen. John Kerry’s infamous statement in 2003: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

He was referring to a supplemental funding bill for the war in Iraq.

In the world of legislative sausage-making – and given what’s now known about how the US got into this prolonged and very costly conflict – what Sen. Kerry had done might seem logical. He was maneuvering to cut the Bush tax cuts in order to pay for the war.

But Kerry acknowledged that what he’d said had been "one of those inarticulate moments." To say the least, it did not help him a year later when he unsuccessfully ran against Bush in the presidential election.

Flip-flopping is an old charge in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. The New York Times archives include 251 specific uses of the phrase going back to 1851 and the days of Tammany Hall.

Today, Mitt Romney is trying mightily not to appear to be a flip-flopper on health care –not an easy task since the statewide plan he favored as governor of Massachusetts (including the dreaded individual mandate) is generally described as the model for the “Obamacare” he and his fellow Republicans now excoriate.

Romney may be among the strongest of the likely candidates for next year’s GOP presidential primaries. So you can be sure that his fellow Republicans will go after him on health care flip-flopping in their debates. Some already are.

Which brings us to another Republican with presidential ambitions but a recent spate of flip-flopping: Newt Gingrich.

On March 7, he was asked by Greta Van Susteren of Fox News what he would do about Muammar Qaddafi attacking his opponents in Libya.

“Exercise a no-fly zone this evening,” he replied. “All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening…. All we have to do is suppress his air force, which we could do in minutes.”

But on March 23, he told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show: “I would not have intervened…. I would not have used American and European forces, bombing Arabs and that country."

The liberal blogosphere jumped all over him, of course. But so did some conservatives.

“Is this anti-Obama pandering or just a big misunderstanding?” asked the anonymous AllahPundit at the conservative blog site Hot Air.

A more neutral observer – the Pulitzer Prize-winning – applying its “Truth-O-Meter,” awarded Gingrich a “Full Flop.” Among other things, PolitiFact noted, Gingrich didn’t use his Facebook page to try and clear things up until he began taking heat.

One hesitates to say (as has been said about Kerry) that Gingrich is a habitual flip-flopper.

But there have been other instances, points out the liberal outfit “Think Progress.”

On global warming, he was for cap-and-trade before he was against it. He even aligned himself with – horrors! – Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi on the subject.

Now that he’s thinking about running for president at a time when the conservative wing of the GOP – whipped along by the tea party movement – is ascendant, he calls cap-and-trade an “energy tax.” And his energy policy is summed up in his book “Drill Here Drill Now Pay Less.”

Climate change? He’s no longer sure that it’s caused by human activity.

Health care?

In 2008, according to an AP report, Gingrich suggested "insurance mandates for people who earn more than $75,000 a year.” Two years later, he was telling Sean Hannity at Fox News that health insurance mandates were unconstitutional.

Both Gingrich and Romney need to better explain their history on health care.

But it’s his contradictory statements on US involvement in Libya that may be most troublesome for Gingrich.

Somebody’s sure to remember that back in 2004 he said, “You can’t flip-flop and be commander-in-chief.”

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