Accusations of flip-flopping can be a death knell for political campaigns. Just ask John Kerry about his 2004 run or Mitt Romney about 2012.
But Donald Trump has shown time and again that the usual rules of campaigning don’t apply to him. Because the real estate mogul has never held elected office, he’s never been pinned down on his positions on some major issues.
Before he became a candidate, Trump reversed course on several issues. He used to be pro-choice; now that he’s running in a Republican primary, he’s pro-life. He used to support assault weapons bans; now he’s against them. He told Howard Stern in 2002 that he supported the invasion of Iraq; now he calls it a mistake.
When pressed, Trump is dismissive of his old statements.
“I could have said that,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper when asked about his past support for the Iraq war. “I wasn’t a politician. It was probably the first time anyone has asked me that question.”
But even during the time that he’s been a candidate for president, Trump has flip flopped on some pretty big issues, something he defends as a sign of flexibility.
“If you’re going to be one way and you think it’s wrong, does that mean the rest of your life you have to go in the wrong direction because you don’t want to change?” Trump asked at the recent Republican debate.
Here’s a look at how Trump reversed himself on three major issues since his campaign began, in two cases changing course more than once.
To strike out a strong stance against ISIS and prove that he’s the “most militaristic person,” as he often likes to say, Trump said he would reinstate waterboarding, institute further torture practices and kill the family members of terrorists.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
Even as recently as March 2016, Trump was still defending torture, which is considered a war crime along with the killing of civilians.
Read More: President Trump’s Illegal Military Orders
“You look at the Middle East, they’re chopping off heads, they’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way, they’re drowning people in steel cages, and now we’re talking about water boarding. … It’s fine, and if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger too,” he said at the most recent Republican debate.
But the following day, when reminded of the fact that the military is duty-bound not to follow unlawful orders, Trump reversed himself in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
“The United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters,” he told the newspaper. “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
And in an even bolder shift in stance, Trump then went ahead and promised to make torture legal. “We’re going to stay within the laws,” he said about torture at a recent campaign rally. “But you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to have those laws broadened.”
2. Skilled worker visas
In last Thursday’s Republican debate, Trump said he had ‘softened’ his position on H-1B visas for skilled workers.
Trump’s website calls for increasing the prevailing wage for H-1B visas and instituting a requirement that American workers be hired first. “More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two. Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas,” his position states.
When asked about the language on his website at the debate, Trump said his views were shifting. “I’m changing, I’m changing,” he said bluntly about his stance on the skilled worker visas. “I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”
But after the debate on the same night, his campaign released an email statement in which he seemed to reverse himself again, back to an anti-H-1B stance. “The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” the statement said. “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
(According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-1B visa is for highly skilled workers. “This visa category applies to people who wish to perform services in a specialty occupation, services of exceptional merit and ability relating to a Department of Defense (DOD) cooperative research and development project, or services as a fashion model of distinguished merit or ability,” the UCIS website reads.)
3. Syrian refugees
In September of 2015, Trump said the United States should accept refugees from Syria.
“I hate the concept of it, but on a humanitarian basis, you have to,” he said on Fox News. “It’s living in hell in Syria. There’s no question about it. They’re living in hell, and something has to be done.”
But Trump quickly changed his tune, swinging to the other side of the issue and becoming one of the most vocal candidates against accepting the refugees. Less than a month later, Trump was back on Fox News saying he would kick out any Syrian refugees admitted to the country and accepting the refugees could prove to be “the ultimate Trojan horse.”
“I tell you, if they come into this country, they’re going out,” he said in November 2015. “If I win, they’re going out. We can’t take a chance.”
By December, Trump had gone ever farther, calling for a “complete shutdown” of all Muslims entering the United States, even beyond the Syrian refugees.
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