Lincoln flip-flopped. And he was a better president for it.
If Walker is desperate to avoid the label of flip-flopper—and it’s clear he is—it’s because we often disdain politicians who are too flexible on their positions and too transparent in their pragmatism. In choosing a president, voters weigh character, and politicians who switch positions—especially on big issues—tend to come up short. Throughout his 2012 campaign, Romney struggled to show his integrity, but the public never responded: Throughout the election, Romney held negative favorability ratings, and in one of the last polls of the season, just 45 percent of registered voters said the Republican nominee was “honest and trustworthy.” Forty-seven percent disagreed. Hillary Clinton has a similar problem: In a New York Times poll, just 48 percent of respondents said she was “honest and trustworthy,” compared to 45 percent who disagreed.
I understand the preference for firm leaders who don’t budge from positions and policies. It’s unsettling to think that a president (or a governor or a senator) would change her ideas or adjust her views on the basis of public opinion, political expediency, or pure opportunism. At the same time, this quality—the willingness and ability to “flip-flop”—is a vital part of presidential leadership.