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Juan Williams: The GOP's festival of flip-flopping

Greg Nash

Do Republicans care that their presidential primary is turning into an exhibition of cartwheel-size political flip-flops?

Politicians have every right to change their mind as the facts and pressures change. But politically expedient flip-flopping is now so rampant that fellow Republicans are calling out the candidates.

“People want folks who…believe in what they say and don’t change depending on what state they are in,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently told a gathering of wealthy donors to the Republican National Committee in Boca Raton, Fla. 

Christie said the party needs to get “bigger and broader” in order to appeal to more voters but he also stressed that “flip-flopping on issues” in pursuit of that goal had to be avoided.

Guess who happened to be standing a few feet away as Christie offered his caution? Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Time magazine later described Christie’s remarks as a shot at Walker, noting that Walker is currently “under fire for changing his position on immigration reform, as well as other issues, in a bid to appeal to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.”  

Time also pointed out that both Christie and Walker have recently flipped, reversing their previous support of Common Core standards for their states’ schools.

And that’s just the start of the flip-flop parade on the right.

The irony here is that the very issues the GOP candidates are disavowing in hopes of winning the primary are the positions that would give them appeal to moderates and independent voters in the general election.

In a fractured Republican Party, what appeals to libertarians is not certain to appeal to evangelicals. And what appeals to small-government Tea Party activists is far from a sure bet with Chamber of Commerce, big business Republicans.

At the moment, only former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush remains consistent on issues such as immigration reform and Common Core. But the latest polls have him on about 23 percent support. That means three-quarters of the party is looking elsewhere.

The only consistent Republican candidate, to the point of rigid adherence to conservative orthodoxy, is Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas). But his hard-line approach has not taken him to the top of the polls.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has flipped on Common Core, too. Last year, the Republican head of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said the governor’s move away from Common Core was “about presidential politics.”

The same point applies to Walker. He had Common Core included in the state budget in 2011. But as his presidential ambitions grew in 2014, Walker announced he wanted the state legislature to repeal Common Core and “replace it with standards set by the people in Wisconsin.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) is flip-flopping over immigration reform. He was one of the authors of a 2013 Senate bill, and its pathway to citizenship for millions of people. Now that he is running for president, the son of Cuban immigrants is putting border security above reform. This flip-flop makes it tricky for him to point out that he put a massive spending increase for border security in the Senate bill.

Rubio’s refusal to stand by his efforts to lead the party on immigration has him looking like the GOP’s last nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. 

In the 2012 campaign, Romney had to run away from the successful healthcare reform he put in place in Massachusetts to placate a party that defined itself through opposition to President Obama’s healthcare plan – which was modeled on Romney’s effort.

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) is also flipping and flopping on immigration reform as well as Iran and military spending. With Republican voters telling pollsters that national security is their top concern, the senator has turned away from his past, libertarian concerns with excessive U.S. intervention in the affairs of other nations. 

In 2007, for example, he insisted a nuclear-armed Iran was “not a threat to our national security… it is not even viable to say they’re a threat to Israel.” But this year he told the Daily Caller: “I’ve always thought Iran getting a nuclear weapon was a bad idea and dangerous to our country.” 

He explained the flip-flop by saying times have changed and Iran has made progress in making a nuclear bomb. “So to say it was the same danger as eight years ago would be basically a foolish notion.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is doing the latest flip among GOP contenders for the nomination. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, he announced his opposition to the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. This is the same Perry who in June 2014 sent a letter to Congress demanding the reauthorization.

What happened? Perry says he is “disturbed” by “recent revelations of corruption” at the bank. But the biggest revelation is that Perry sees a chance to win the GOP nomination.

Republican President Herbert Hoover once said Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was a “chameleon on plaid” for all his changing positions. This GOP field’s official color is plaid.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.