Republican presidential contender Donald Trump doesn't have many nice things to say about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama these days.
But as Meet the Press showed in a Sunday segment, the billionaire expressed some very different views on Obama, the Clintons, and several key issues just a few years ago. As host Chuck Todd put it, "One of the reasons Trump is breaking through this year, though, is people feel they know where he stands. But do they? We've been looking at his positions through the years, and it would be fair to say he's evolved — quite a few times on some key issues."
Trump on Clinton
2015: "I think Hillary would be a terrible president. She was the worst secretary of state in the history of our nation. Why would she be a good president?"
2012: "Hillary Clinton, I think, is a terrific woman.… I just like her. I like her, and I like her husband."
Trump on Obama
2015: "Some people would say he's incompetent. I would not say that. Eh, yes, I would."
2010: "I think [former Secretary of the Treasury] Tim Geithner has done a good job. I think that the whole group has really done a good job. When you look at what's happened, at least we have an economy. You wouldn't have had an economy had they not come up with some very drastic steps two years ago."
Trump on health care
2015: "I'm almost more disappointed with the Republicans. … They have to toughen up on Obamacare, which is a total lie, and which is a total and complete disaster."
1999: "Liberal on health care. We have to take care of people that are sick. … I like universal. We have to take care. There's nothing else. What's the country all about if we're not going to take care of our sick?"
Note: Trump told the Washington Post's Robert Costa on Saturday, "You heard what I said today about health care. I said, 'I'm sorry, folks, but we have to take care people that don't have money.' I know it's not the conservative thing to say, but I got a standing ovation — and these were very conservative people. We can't let people down when they can't get any medical care, when they're sick and don't have money to go to a doctor. You help them."
Trump on taxes
2015: "Let me tell you, everybody wants to pay as little as possible — including Warren Buffett, by the way, just by what he says. And somebody said, 'What's your tax rate?' I don't know. I pay as little as possible."
1999: "I would tax people of wealth — of great wealth, people over $10 million — by 14.25 percent."
Trump on abortion
2015: "I'm very pro-life, and feel strongly about it."
1999: "I'm very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But, still, I just believe in choice."
Why do these flip-flops matter?
Trump's change of heart on several political positions contributes to the idea that he is really running for the media attention — conveniently adopting opinions that stoke outrage to draw widespread coverage. As Vox's Dara Lind wrote in explaining Trump's comments that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, "If none of this sounds like the behavior of a serious presidential candidate, that's because Donald Trump is not a serious presidential candidate. Donald Trump is running for president because Donald Trump may very well be the thirstiest human being alive."
By this narrative, Trump is conveniently molding himself to get the attention and support of the conservative base and the media attention that comes with it. But he doesn't really care about whether he actually wins the White House — and if the campaign fundamentals are right, he doesn't really stand a chance. But Trump keeps going and going, drawing more attention to himself and his brand with each outrageous comment and speech, getting the attention he seems to crave.
Of course, there's also the possibility that Trump is a serious candidate, and his flip-flops are genuine evolutions in his personal views. In that case, conservative voters might want to know that Trump wasn't always their champion on a few issues.