Ordinarily, a politician’s flip-flop is simple: he or she takes one position, then decides to take the opposite position, and hopes the blowback isn’t too severe. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), however, is struggling through an entirely different kind of experience – one in which he tried to flip-flop, but didn’t quite stick the landing.
Exactly two weeks ago, Gardner, his party’s competitive U.S. Senate candidate this year, announced that he’d changed his mind about a radical anti-abortion policy called “personhood” measures, which would ban, among other things, common forms of birth control. The Republican congressman had championed the idea in recent years, but now that he’s seeking statewide office, Gardner wants Coloradans to know he believes the opposite of what he used to believe.
How, when, and why did Gardner reverse course? The conservative lawmaker said he didn’t want to talk about it. Rest assured, though, he’s no longer a “personhood” proponent.
Yesterday, however, Democrats eagerly circulated a statement from Personhood USA’s president, Keith Mason, telling Gardner he didn’t really flip-flop.
“Representative Gardner, you’ve long said you stood in defense of unborn life from the moment of fertilization, including by co-sponsoring the federal ‘Life Begins at Conception Act.’ That act would guarantee the rights and protections of personhood for all unborn children, just like the personhood bills here in the state of Colorado.”
This is perhaps the first instance I’ve ever seen of a politician declaring, “I’ve flip-flopped on a major issue,” only to be told by friend and foe alike, “Actually, no, you didn’t.”
In this case, Colorado has twice voted on “personhood” ballot measures – they both failed miserably – and in both cases, Gardner endorsed the far-right proposal. When he announced his new position, Gardner seemed to have the Colorado measures in mind.
But the congressman’s 180-degree return was arguably incomplete. On Capitol Hill, Gardner is still a co-sponsor of federal “personhood” legislation, which according to abortion-rights supporters and abortion-rights opponents, is substantively no different from the state measures Gardner endorsed and then repudiated.
In other words, the Colorado Republican is trying to say he reversed course on “personhood,” even while remaining a supporter of “personhood.”
Politicians who flip-flop tend to invite criticism, but what happens when politicians try to flip-flop only part of the way?