Thursday, March 22, 2012
Eric Fehrnstrom, in answering a question on CNN about Romney hurting himself with moderates by taking conservative positions during the primaries, seemed to be trying to say that dynamics naturally change in a general election. Different issues take prominence. Candidates draw different contrasts with each other. It's a wholly different campaign to prepare for.
All that is true. But here are the words Fehrnstrom used those conservative primary positions: "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes ... It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
Well. Republican candidates dutifully pounced on this apparent affirmation of Romney's flip-floppedness. Rick Santorum shook an Etch A Sketch and mocked Romney at a Louisiana rally. Newt Gingrich, also in Louisiana, handed one to a child at a rally and said "She could now be a presidential candidate."
Democrats, of course, were gleeful. Republicans were troubled, including Rush Limbaugh, who wondered if the Etch A Sketch remark was a message that "We'll do the right things to get the moderates."
But will the gaffe do any damage? In the short term, probably not. Democrats and Obama supporters have made their point with it, and Santorum and Gingrich will carry Etch A Sketches around for a couple of days, to no avail. Republican voters have already considered Romney's reputation for shape-shifting, and they've settled with the inevitability of his nomination. Etch A Sketch doesn't break any new storylines - it's just a colorful illustration of the suspicions some already have.
Come summer and fall, however, Democrats will be warning moderates that they don't know which Mitt Romney they'd get as president - a theme they've already hammered - and the Etch A Sketch could provide a handy reminder of that. Voters like narratives they can visualize - George H.W. Bush at the supermarket scanner - and the Democrats just got one that will be hard to shake away.
What others are saying:
ABC News' The Note says it's a mess for Romney.
The Wall Street Journal says the gaffe has shaken Romney's camp.
Red State says conservatives should embrace Romney's malleability.
Peter St. Onge
Posted by The Observer Editorial Board at 9:41 AM