Alternate headline: Don’t blame me for my immigration positions — blame my constituents! At a CNN town hall last night, a questioner ripped Kirsten Gillibrand for her past “hardline” positions on immigration, which included support for a constitutional amendment for making English the official language of the US. Not to be outdone, CNN moderator Erin Burnett followed up with more examples of positions Gillibrand abandoned since being elected to the Senate.
Gillibrand had the same answer both times, which basically boils down to changing her position to suit the constituency she wants to win at the moment:
Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday confronted some of her previous stances on immigration, saying they “didn’t care” about the needs of diverse Americans.
“When I was a member of Congress from upstate New York, I was really focused on the priorities of my district,” the New York senator said during a CNN town hall. “When I became senator of the entire state, I recognized that some of my views really did need to change.”
In other words, had Gillibrand stayed in her House seat, she would have never changed those positions? Or is it that she felt the need to adopt an uncaring position because her old House district was so parochial? And it’s not like we’re talking about a narrow or incremental change either. Both the questioner and Burnett tick off a number of significant changes for Gillibrand, which she chalks up to her enlightenment after realizing that, er, she had to win a lot of votes in New York City to win a Senate seat.
Gillibrand tried shifting attention from her own shift to the shifty Democratic bete noire Gillibrand wants to replace:
During the town hall, Gillibrand said she has changed considerably since her times in the House, and that she was “ashamed” of her past positions. She used her ideological evolution to further distance herself from the president, who she said is incapable of change.
“For people who aspire to be president, I think it’s really important that you’re able to admit when you’re wrong and that you’re able to grow and learn and listen and be better, and be stronger,” Gillibrand said. “That is something that Donald Trump is unwilling to do.”
This is an almost perfect rendition of the Forrest Gump “it’s just the war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson” excuse. Besides, it’s laughable on its face. Trump can certainly dig in at times, but he’s hardly unwilling to change. In fact, he changes so much that even his allies in the GOP can’t count on his negotiating positions at any one time. Trump has changed so many of his political positions over the 30-year course of his celebrity that it’s impossible to catalogue them all here. With the exception of protectionism, on which Trump has been remarkably consistent, he’s changed on almost every other significant policy issue, including abortion.
CNN’s Dan Merica tries to make a virtue out of Gillibrand’s embrace of inconsistency, and as an asset when it comes to connections to allies she abandoned when convenient:
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday did something most politicians aren’t willing to do: Unequivocally admit when they think they’ve made a mistake.
Gillibrand came into CNN’s town hall with a long list of progressive policies that she regularly touts on the campaign trail. But she also stepped into the spotlight with a record that includes conservative positions on immigration and guns, something that has followed her throughout her 2020 campaign and raised questions about her progressive credentials.
Gillibrand looked to both apologize for her past record while also using that history as proof of her ability to reach out and connect with conservative voters on Tuesday night.
How exactly would that work? I used to defend your positions before I became enlightened, so pay attention to me now when I explain how you’re racist? Can one shame voters into support? “Connect[ing] with conservatives” involves respecting their motives and appreciating their positions even while not agreeing with them, just as it does in the reverse. Rather than talking about “shame,” it might help to present an actual defense of these positions first rather than just admit that Gillibrand bought into them when they were beneficial to her career.
Maybe if Gillibrand was the only legit candidate in the race, Democrats would settle for that answer. With two dozen or more other choices, though, they can be more choosy.