Rick Perry: Flip-Flopper (Updated)

A profoundly dishonest narrative about the Republican presidential field has taken root in the blogosphere. Mitt Romney, we’re told, is the smooth-talking phony whose conservatism is mostly fraudulent, while Rick Perry is the “conservative of conviction” whose only real shortcomings concern presentation.

Though this narrative depends on several disingenuous attacks on Romney, it must be admitted that Romney is far from ideal, and his actual flip-flops are certainly legitimate targets. I supported Romney in 2008 but this time around would have preferred to see either John Bolton or Rick Santorum become viable candidates (I haven’t entirely given up on Santorum just yet), and I temporarily favored Michele Bachmann until she collapsed under the weight of her own ineptness. Though I have several issues with Herman Cain, I understand the appeal of his obvious sincerity. I respect the desire for a suitable Not Romney.

What I don’t respect, however, is a constant barrage of complaints about one flip-flopping, moderate governor by hypocritical apologists for another flip-flopping, moderate governor. I’ve blogged before on how Rick Perry’s conservatism is greatly exaggerated, and now that the practice of banning commenters who support flip-flopping candidates has earned the RedState Seal of Approval, I think it’s time to take a long overdue look at the Texan Messiah’s surprisingly long record of shifting views and principles.

  • Taxes—Perry has signed Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge vowing to “oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes” (PDF link). Unfortunately, Perry’s record on that score falls well short of “any and all.” During his tenure in the Texas Legislature, Perry “voted more than a dozen times to allow higher taxes or to raise them,” “repeatedly joined the Democratic House majority in voting to raise the sales tax,” voted for tax hikes “on motorists, corporations and liquor,” and voted for “sweeping legislation that raised the sales tax to 6 percent, increased corporate tax rates, pushed up the cigarette tax by more than a nickel per pack and slapped a 7 percent tax on insurance premiums.”
  • Fed Up—Perry’s recent book is the subject of a particularly blatant flip-flop. At the candidate’s very first campaign stop, Perry had this pithy answer for those wondering what he’d do as president: “Have you read my book, ‘Fed Up’? Get a copy and read it.” But just days later, once the press started mining the book for dirt, Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, gave a very different message: Fed Up is “a look back, not a path forward” and wasn’t meant “in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto.” Either Rick needs to set Ray straight on a few things, or the grim specter of political expediency has again reared its ugly head.
  • (Added 11/26/11) Afghanistan—The governor has sent out mixed messages on the Afghanistan War. In the September Tampa debate, Perry said “I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan — I don’t think so at this particular point in time”; and he told Time that “we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well.” But on September 15, a Perry adviser “clarified” that the governor “would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending. He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it.”
  • Constitutionality of Social Security & Medicare—Perry in Fed Up: Social Security was created “at the expense of respect for the Constitution.” Perry in an August Daily Beast interview, when asked whether the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause covers Social Security and Medicare: “I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term ‘general welfare’ in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care.” Perry at a fundraiser on August 28: “I never said it [Medicare] was unconstitutional […] those that have said that I said they’re [Medicare & Social Security] unconstitutional, I’m going to have them read the book. That’s not what I said.”
  • Fixing Social Security—John McCormack has caught Perry flip-flopping on what to do about Social Security, too: In October 2010, Perry told MSNBC that America should “get [Social Security] back to the states, asking, “why is the federal government even in the pension program or the health care delivery program?” In the September 2011 Orlando GOP debate, though, he denied his own words: “We never said we were going to move this back to the states.” The Perry campaign’s Social Security plan calls for enabling states to let government employees opt out, but as far as federalism goes, that’s about it—no grand decentralization of government responsibility.
  • Leaving Gay Marriage to the States—On July 23, Perry unequivocally stated that New York’s decision to embrace same-sex marriage was purely a state matter: “That’s their business, and that’s fine with me […] If you believe in the 10th amendment, stay out of their business if you live in some other state or particularly if you’re the federal government.” But on July 30, Perry decided that the Big Apple’s marriage policies were his business after all: “I am for the federal marriage amendment.”
  • Leaving Abortion to the States—On July 27, Perry was every bit as unequivocal that abortion should be left to the states, as well: “You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t. You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then for something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.’” Just days later, though, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger delivered the news that federalism didn’t suit her boss on the subject anymore: “The governor has long supported overturning Roe v. Wade, and would support amending the U.S. Constitution, with the backing of Congress and the states, to protect innocent life.”
  • Pro-Lifers in Office—Despite having numerous pro-life candidates to choose from, Perry’s pick for president in the last GOP primary was the only non-pro-lifer in the field: Rudy Giuliani, a pro-abortion radical who supported both taxpayer funding for abortion and partial-birth abortion. So when it’s his turn to run and Perry signs a pledge to  “select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions,” I think voters may be forgiven for a bit of skepticism.
  • (Added 11/25/11) A Path to Citizenship for Illegals—In the aforementioned Daily Beast interview, Perry was asked: “just to be clear: if border security is accomplished, you can envision some sort of path to citizenship for people who are here illegally,” to which he answered, “Sure.” But on August 17, Perry said we need an immigration policy that “clearly stays away from this issue of making individuals legal citizens of the United States if they haven’t gone through the proper process.”
  • Arizona Immigration Law—If you think that business about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is the only blemish on Perry’s immigration record, think again. Case in point: during the Orlando GOP debate, Perry talked up how he “supported Arizona’s immigration law by joining a lawsuit to defend it.” Credit where credit’s due for the lawsuit, but Perry’s glossing over the fact that by “supported,” he doesn’t exactly mean, er, supported—at the time of SB1070’s passage, he said, “I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas.”
  • Confederate Symbols—Perry has changed his tune on the appropriateness of Confederate symbols. In 2000, Perry wrote to the Sons of Confederate Veterans that he “oppose[s] efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques, and memorials from public property” because “Texans should remember the past and learn from it.” Fast forward to October 26 of this year, when Perry decided that Confederate flags on Texas license plates weren’t so valuable, because “we don’t need to be scraping old wounds.”
  • Gardasil—In 2007, Perry signed the infamous executive order mandating that sixth-grade girls be given the Gardasil vaccine, which he was so adamant about that he savaged those who disagreed as “shameful” spreaders of “misinformation” who lack “forgiveness and grace” and “have relegated the lives of our young women to social Darwinism.” But when it became clear that the mandate would be a liability to his candidacy, he reversed course, admitting that instead of an opt-out, “what we should of done was a program that frankly allowed them to opt in or some type of program like that.” Notably, though, he also spun his reluctant surrender to the legislature as evidence of what a great guy he is: “One of the things I do pride myself on, I listen. When the electorate says hey that’s not what we want to do.  We backed up, took a look at what we did.  I understand I work for the people, it’s not the other way around.”
  • Federal Energy Subsidies—In July 2008, Perry supported a federal loan guarantee for a nuclear power plant in Texas. In 2011, Perry reversed himself, admitting “I’ve changed my position from the standpoint of having any desire to have the federal government (involved).” Why? Because over the years, “what I’ve learned is the federal government by-and-large, you keep them out of these issues, particularly on the energy side.” Well, that sure clears everything up!
  • Stimulus Funds—Like most Republicans, Perry is a strong critic of Washington’s drunken-sailor act, and on August 29, Perry made a bold promise: “You won’t have stimulus programs under a Perry presidency.” But as Katrina Trinko reports, the governor’s been far more welcoming of stimulus programs in practice—the $555 million in unemployment assistance Perry rejected pales in comparison to the almost $17 billion he accepted for other purposes. What’s more, “Texas had shifted from a donor state (paying more in taxes than receiving in federal funds) to a recipient state under Perry’s tenure.”
  • Party Affiliation—Until 1989, Rick Perry was a Democrat. His defense on that score is twofold: first, that the Democrats were much more moderate back then, and second, that he had to be a Democrat to get elected in the South. Granted, Perry couldn’t be described as far-left by any means, and the Dems have gotten more radical since the 80s, but it’s not as if the party’s basic vision of government has changed much in the past several decades, and his Democrat years were when he favored those aforementioned tax hikes. And as for the second point, one simply wonders why it’s perfectly fine for one governor to present himself differently to survive in a Democrat-dominated political climate, but intolerable for another to do the same thing in an even more radical state?
  • Al Gore—Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and judging by their modern-day personas, few pairing seem stranger than Rick Perry and Al Gore. Yet the former supported the latter’s 1988 presidential campaign. Perry’s defense is that Gore was a moderate back then, which is true, but not nearly to the extent Perry claims. For one thing, Gore was holding congressional hearings on global warming as far back as 1976, and for another, Perry’s claim that Gore ’88 was “a strong Strategic Defense Initiative proponent” is simply false: Gore renounced his support for SDI weeks before beginning his campaign, going on to say he “oppose[d] absolutely any plan for development or deployment” of the system and condemning it as an unfeasible scheme that “would make the possibility of a nuclear first strike more likely.”

Now, you might give Rick Perry the benefit of the doubt and credit him with genuine changes of opinion. You might interpret the context of certain examples charitably and argue Perry’s “before” and “after” stances aren’t actually inconsistent, or that Perry was simply “clarifying” the original position he had all along. You might even forgive some of Perry’s more blatant flip-flops as a matter of strategic necessity. And depending on the facts of each case, doing so might be correct, or at least reasonable.

What you can’t do, though, is pretend Perry is as pure as new-fallen snow, a consistent conservative champion untarnished by error, opportunism, perception, or polls—and you especially can’t do so while applying a completely different set of standards to Mitt Romney’s record, which a full and honest assessment would probably reveal to have roughly the same mix of sincere change, political calculation, and mitigating circumstances. Either both men are unreliable RINOs simply telling us what we want to hear, or both men are flawed yet well-meaning conservatives who deserve a chance to prove themselves. Only by applying the same balance of scrutiny and fairness to every candidate equally can we hope to find the best man to defeat Barack Obama.

Support Perry if you honestly believe his pro/con ratio is better than Romney’s. All I ask is that you have the integrity to be honest about what that pro/con ratio really is, and the humility to admit that those who came to the opposite conclusion hold the same values, seek the same goals, and asked the same questions as you. Like everyone else, Romney supporters are simply picking what they hope will be the best choice from a lousy menu, and the impulse to declare war on an entire subset of conservatives for that reflects something far uglier than any flip-flop.

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