SALT LAKE CITY -- The term flip-flopper has become one of the most disparaging phrases used in political history, with several candidacies and individuals hurt by accusations of changing beliefs and positions. In some instances, being called a flip-flopper is the kiss of death. To be called a flip-flopping candidate is essentially to have one's character called into questioned -- to have no backbone.
The term is not uncommon, however. In fact, it dates back to the 1890s, where the phrase was first used to describe a district attorney race in New York City. Since then, the phrase has been repeated in several campaigns, including local and national elections.
Candidates classified as flip-floppers often struggle to overcome the negative publicity, but it does not necessarily make their candidacy or positions any less important or valid. Voters must question whether being a flip-flopper on the issues is a negative quality for a candidate and whether a candidate solidified in partisan politics is more successful than a flip-flopping candidate.
Throughout the history of the United States, several elected representatives have changed their position on key areas of their platform prior to being elected or after securing office. However, a shift in belief doesn't necessarily disqualify a candidate from effectively executing the law.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were on record as being pro-choice before switching to a pro-life stance on abortion. The sudden shift of opinion was seen as politically expedient, bending to the will of the voters and not on actual belief. However, both presidents never back down from their new stance.
Prior to becoming president, Reagan was highly critical of members of Congress -- both Republican and Democrat -- who negotiated with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Reagan is revered by Americans for his work negotiating with the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, ushering in the signing of the INF Treaty, and ultimately the beginning to the end of the Cold War.
Furthermore, candidate-Bush told Americans at the Republican National Convention in 1988, "Read my lips: no new taxes," but ended up raising taxes to help reduce the national budget deficit, upsetting the Republican Party. New taxes were not technically introduced, but many saw the increase in taxes as a change to his campaign promise.
Included in the historical review of representatives changing their positions is arguably one of the most influential presidents to govern the United States: Abraham Lincoln.
Prior to becoming president, Lincoln campaigned on the belief there would be no end to slavery or a complete emancipation for African-Americans, given the fierce divergence of American thought. Lincoln did not have a strong desire to end slavery, seeing it as something impossible.
Lincoln's greatness, in part, was that he was willing to see when a policy was not working, and change it for the better. A flip-flopper.
However, with a divided country hanging in the balance, Lincoln reversed path as president and declared the Emancipation Proclamation executive order in 1863, giving all slaves equal rights. Lincoln's decision undoubtedly altered the United States for the better, helping to bring northern and southern Americans together after fierce fighting.
Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University, told the National Journal Lincoln's reversal of opinion helped to make him great: "Lincoln's greatness, in part, was that he was willing to see when a policy was not working, and change it for the better. A flip-flopper."
Now, the United States faces a different battle, with voters almost universally disgusted with the direction of Washington. According to Gallup Poll, the congressional approval rating has hit an all-time low at 13 percent, which is the lowest Congress has ever dropped.
Voters appear to be tired of the constant bickering and the partisan politics halting congressional work, with Americans urging Congress to work together and correct the ills of the country. Yet in the same breath, voters criticize legislators who bend their positions and change beliefs. The apparent voter schizophrenia seems to be counter intuitive to the meaning of politics: a process where people make collective decisions or negotiations.
Voters want representatives to work well with others, but criticize a candidate who is a flip-flopper.
Recently, the flip-flopping term has gained popularity and has become synonymous with the presidential campaigns of John Kerry in 2004 and Mitt Romney in 2008, and again during the 2012 election cycle.
Kerry was described as a flip-flopper -- among other reasons -- for voting on a bill to appropriate additional funds to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."
That simple statement was repeated several times over the duration of the election cycle and ultimately doomed Kerry's candidacy. To make matters worse for Kerry, then- President George W. Bush ran an ad with Kerry windsurfing, describing him as a candidate willing to bend in any way for political expediency.
With the 2012 presidential election cycle in full swing, front-runner candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been classified as flip-floppers by Republican opponents and incumbent President Barack Obama. Romney has taken the brunt of the attack, given his shift on issues including abortion, gay rights and immigration. However, Romney has consistently defended his shift in positions, saying he believed it was the right thing to do.
Gingrich, who has been a strong opponent to President Obama's individual mandate, previously supported the individual mandate in the 1990s, believing it would help President Bill Clinton's health care plan.
Republican candidates Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman criticized the two front-runners, calling them flawed.
"I'm running against a conservative flip-floppers," Huntsman said of Romney. "I'm running against a grandiose conservative. People are coming around to the reality that I'm a consistent conservative."
Despite the apparent flaws in Gingrich's and Romney's campaign, they remain the most likely of candidates to secure the Republican nomination next year. If so, are voters willing to select a candidate who is willing to adapt or is the country looking for more of the same partisan rhetoric?