Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Another flap over flip-flops

SUMMARY: John McCain makes fun of Mitt Romney for changing positions on abortion and gun control. McCain's jibes may not be polite, but they are accurate.

As the Florida primary campaign entered its final 24 hours, John McCain unleashed a sarcastic political ad targeting Mitt Romney and his "flip-flops" on key Republican issues.

The ad opens with red curtains parting and the classical music of Masterpiece Theatre playing. "A Tale of Two Mitts," proclaims a mock title page.

From there, we go to clips of Mitt Romney speaking about abortion, gun control and the Republican Party. One set is from Romney's runs for public office in Massachusetts; the other is from the current campaign for president.

• On abortion: Romney said in 1994, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country," and in 2002, "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose." In 2007, Romney says he is prolife.

• On gun control: Romney said in 2002, "We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them." In 2007, he said, "I support the Second Amendment. I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life."

• On the Republican Party: In a 1994 debate, Romney said, "I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush." In 2007, he said, "It's time for Republicans to start acting like Republicans."

The ad concludes with the words, "Mitt Romney's Flip-Flops Truly Are Masterpieces."

The ad's contrasts of Romney's positions check out, and the video clips in the ad are genuine. Romney did previously support abortion rights and favor gun control when he ran for office in Massachusetts. He also made the statement that he was not trying to return to Reagan-Bush after his opponent, Sen. Ted Kennedy, attacked him on that point.

These same charges have been leveled against Romney previously.

The YouTube video of Romney making the comments in the Massachusetts races has been available on the Internet since at least January 2007; it was posted anonymously but its authenticity has not been questioned.

Sen. Sam Brownback, before he dropped out of the campaign, attacked Romney's antiabortion bona fides; we checked his statement here .

And in October 2007, the Log Cabin Republicans attacked Romney on almost identical grounds as the McCain ad. The Log Cabin Republicans represent gay and lesbian Republicans; a spokesman said the group thought Romney was a phony and wanted people to know it. (See our previous story on this here .)

Romney has said he has always favored Second Amendment rights, even when he ran for office in Massachusetts, a state that does have strict gun laws. Earlier in the campaign, Romney said the National Rifle Association endorsed him when he ran for Massachusetts governor. But the Washington Post found that the NRA did not endorse in that election, and the Romney campaign admitted Romney spoke in error. We checked that statement here .

On abortion, Romney openly admits his position has changed, and he has asked voters to judge him on what he believes now. In response to attacks from his opponents, Romney said in August 2007, "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been prolife longer than I have."

Immediately after the new McCain ad was released, the Romney campaign responded by criticizing McCain for running negative ads. They pointed to previous statements from McCain that he wanted to run a positive campaign. "Senator McCain always sinks to a lower level and offers distortions and flailing attacks against his opponents when a campaign is close," the campaign said in a statement.

But after looking at the content of McCain's ad, we don't find its implicit claims to be a distortion.