In 2004, President George W. Bush was able to win reelection in part based on his campaign’s ability to characterize his opponent John Kerry as a flip-flopper, a.k.a. a politician who changes his views as easily as the wind blows. Bush famously characterized Kerry as being for the Iraq war before he was against it. Kerry could never come up with an effective counter to the flip-flopper tag, and many feel that this helped seal his defeat.
Let’s fast forward to 2008, the Republican nominee is John McCain a former maverick who has often taken positions on big issues that are at odds with his own party. In order to shore up his base of support with the party, McCain has changed his positions on three major issues, torture, immigration, and the Bush tax cuts. It was McCain’s support of the president’s immigration reform plan that almost sunk his campaign before a single primary ballot was cast. McCain was helped on this issue by the fact that none of his serious challengers had a strong anti-immigration record.
In order to appease the base, McCain has adopted an inconsistent position on torture, and has reversed his position on the Bush tax cuts, and is now calling for them to be made permanent. On, Thursday Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized McCain for changing his position. “These are all steps that John McCain rightly said were irresponsible when they first came up. He made a decision to reverse himself on that. That was how, I guess, you got your ticket punched to be the Republican nominee. But he was right then, and he’s wrong now,” Obama said.
Without using the term, Obama called out McCain for flip-flopping on the tax issue. The McCain campaign, now put in the same position as Kerry in 2004, was only able to issue a weak stock reply about how Obama will raise taxes, while McCain will cut them. This is why Republicans will regret ever coming up with the fictitious flip-flopper issue. They should be prepared for a general election campaign where the Democratic nominee is going to pound away at McCain for changing so many of his positions. Republicans can’t defend themselves by saying what was wrong for John Kerry then is somehow right for John McCain now.
The blunt truth is that McCain does appear to be a panderer who is changing his positions to solidify his position with the Republican base. What McCain has never realized is that with every step he takes to the right, he loses some of his appeal as a maverick among Independents and Democrats. According to the definition that President Bush laid out in 2004, John McCain is a flip-flopper. I guess the old saying is true, what comes around goes around, and if the 2008 general election was a movie it would be titled Kerry’s Revenge.