Etch-a-Sketch

If Mitt Romney really wants to demonstrate that he’s not simply pandering when he tells us how conservative he is, he needs to fire his campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. On CNN, Mr. Fehrnstrom said that no matter how conservative the governor may sound on the campaign trail now, come the fall campaign he can “hit a reset button.” He went on to say, “It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” 

As Yuval Levin noted on National Review’s The Corner, if you had asked what would “do the most damage to Romney’s support among conservatives, and … then strained to imagine the stupidest thing they could possibly say, [you] might well have come up with something like Eric Fehrnstrom’s comment on CNN.

By any objective measure, it’s of course unjust to fire a man for one errant remark. Politics, however, isn’t fair, and neither is the presidency. Mr. Romney’s problem is not his policies or programs;  his problem is his credibility: many people just don’t believe he really believes what he is telling us. Firing Mr. Fehrnstrom would be a welcome signal that Mr. Romney is offended by any suggestion, no matter how much it might be later explained away, that he does not really believe what he says — and is ready, willing, and able to erase it away when he thinks he needs to.  The worst part is that Mr. Fehrnstrom does not appear to have chosen unfortunate words that distort what he ways trying to say. To the contrary, his problem is that he appears to have inadvertently expressed what he, and by extension the Romney campaign, really does think.   

This is a tough decision for any candidate. We’ll learn something by Mr. Romney’s reaction.  

  1. JM Hanes

    “We’ll learn something by Mr. Romney’s reaction.” 

    I certainly hope we don’t learn that he would fire a valuable advisor at a key juncture, in a patently symbolic gesture that will never reassure those conservatives who won’t believe a word he says in explanation anyway.  Shifting strategies between primaries and the general election would be utterly pedestrian political fare if confirmation bias weren’t running riot these days. 

    Lighten up!  Embrace the Etch-A-Sketch, if only for its entertainment value.  Has Newt Gingrich ever looked sillier than he did on the stump with Etch-A-Sketch in hand?  Is there anything that says silly season like an Obama Etch-A-Sketch campaign ad?  

    Shoot, Etch-A-Sketch is almost as American apple pie.  It may be made in China now, but the family run Ohio company that sells it is still the toy business today.  Buy ‘em in bulk, draw a flag on ‘em and hand ‘em out to parents with sullen youths in tow at the mall; take ‘em along when you’re knocking on suburban doors and keep the kids busy while you reassure Mom that there’s no Republican war on women….   

  2. Trace

    Bill: This precise topic was already well covered this morning. This aspect of Ricochet continues to really bug me and underscores how few of the posters actually bother to read what goes on here. The term “editor” has a meaning that seems misapplied in the case of Ricochet.

  3. Guruforhire

    Does firing him really solve the problem or is it just another calculated pander?

  4. Bill McGurn
    C

    Trace, Mea Culpa. I looked down, but not far enough down, before posting. That was my fault, not editor’s.

    Guruforhire, I think Romney is best candidate. But if someone on my staff implied I could just shift my positions, I’d be anger. I think a flash of anger from Mr. Romney now and again — not as often as Newt — might help him. There were many ways to answer this question, but Mr. Fehrnstrom’s answer embraced the premise of the CNN interviewer that Mr. Romney is too far to the right.

  5. Tom Lindholtz

    I’ll put my money down right now: I don’t think Mitt will fire Fehrnstrom.  1) Mitt is a manager, not a leader.  2) Mitt is a good Mormon and failure to be forgiving goes against his enculturation. 

    Mitt’s credibility with conservatives will continue to sink.

  6. Tom Lindholtz

    Trace, I share your sympathies.  I suspect the problem is:

    If you’re too busy to read, ie. much in demand, you shouldn’t be a Contributor. 

    If you’re not too busy to read, you shouldn’t be a Contributor.  ;-)

  7. Guruforhire

    The problem with earning a reputation as a calculating panderer is that is that it gains its own momentum and reinforces itself, and everything you say and do is viewed through a jaded eye.

  8. Leporello

    Demoting him and publicly disagreeing with the remarks might be a more prudent option.  

    The trouble with firing staffers is that the other side quickly uses it against your campaign – calling on you constantly to fire someone else who speaks out of turn (which happens often), and making lots of hay out of it if you do not.

    But I agree that Romney cannot let those remarks stand.  

  9. Mollie Hemingway
    Trace Urdan:

    Let’s take it down a notch. Besides, while I wrote about Etch-a-Sketch, I focused on the gaffe and how it plays among conservatives.

    Bill takes it a step further by asking how a candidate should respond to such a mistake as this.

    I wrote about some Romney fans grumbling about the campaign leadership being a mess last week — myopic and insular and the like.

    Romney is very loyal to his staff and that’s an admirable quality. But I think that it’s at least worth considering a shake-up given the weaknesses of what should be a knock-out campaign.

    Whether that means Fehrnstrom or others is for better analysts than I (although I did read that Fehrnstrom has lost six of his last races, a bad record indeed).

    A lot is riding on this campaign and it could definitely use a tune-up. I’m open to hearing suggestions for how to right the ship — heading in the right direction though it may be.

  10. Leporello
    Guruforhire: The problem with earning a reputation as a calculating panderer is that is that it gains its own momentum and reinforces itself, and everything you say and do is viewed through a jaded eye. · 5 minutes ago

    Maybe the ultimate solution is to run only bachelors, because most married men are forced to pander as a matter of daily survival.

  11. ParisParamus

    Is there any chance that Eric F. was confusing toys, or did not know that shaking an Etch-A-Sketch makes everything that was there gone?

  12. Guruforhire
    Leporello

    Guruforhire: The problem with earning a reputation as a calculating panderer is that is that it gains its own momentum and reinforces itself, and everything you say and do is viewed through a jaded eye. · 5 minutes ago

    Maybe the ultimate solution is to run only bachelors, because most married men are forced to pander as a matter of daily survival. · 18 minutes ago

    So True!  No wonder our wives think we think they dont look good in their jeans no matter how many times we tell them they do.

  13. HVTs

    For those already persuaded by (or unconcerned about) Romney’s serial sincerity, this gaffe won’t much matter.  I mean, seriously, by tossing Rev. Wright under the bus who did Obama convince that Black Liberation Theology was something he opposed?  Only those already committed to supporting Obama regardless of his theology.  Which means, in other words, Rev. Wright didn’t matter one lick to the outcome of anything.

    Whether he fires Mr. Foot-in-Mouth or not, who is ever going to ‘shake and restart’ the Etch-A-Sketch of Romney he so obligingly handed out?  Only those already so far down Route Romney that they will not change highways regardless of what the road signs are screaming. 

  14. HVTs
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Trace Urdan:

    Let’s take it down a notch. Besides, while I wrote about Etch-a-Sketch, I focused on the gaffe and how it plays among conservatives.

    Bill takes it a step further by asking how a candidate should respond to such a mistake as this.

    Might I add that if it’s that sort of editing you require, you might want to stick with those newspapers you evidently still read.  They do lots of lovely editing . . . turning color into monochrome each and every day.

  15. liberal jim

    Romney is a pandering moderate.  The proof of this is that he is about to get the GOP nomination.  Since Reagan only pandering moderates have been nominated by the GOP.  The cheer-leading pseudo-conservative press would like to pretend otherwise, but that does not change the obvious.   Romney and the GOP are quickly turning into jokes.

  16. billy

    On that earlier post that  Mr. Urdan referenced, I proposed three compromises  under a Romney administration that for pragmatic politics, conservatives will just have to accept. 

    So for the good of the country, the party, the conservative movement, etc., what compromises will conservatives have to accept on-

    Immigration?

    The number of carrier battle groups?

    The size and scope of the Dept of Education?

    What price an increase in oil exploration?

    Will it be higher gas taxes? or increase in public transport subsidies?

    We’re all gonna have to bite the bullet with Romney unless we want Obama to have four more years.

    Fine.

    But we’re  gonna be bitin’ that damn bullet for a long time.

  17. Frozen Chosen

    While it’s true that all candidates tack to the center in the general election, this comment by Mr Fehrnstrom is just plain stupid – not to mention cocky.

    I agree with Leporello that a demotion would be in order.

  18. Astonishing

    Let me get this straight.

    Romney’s “problem is his credibility: many people just don’t believe he really believes what he is telling us,” viz that he’s really a conservative.

    But the “Etch-a-Sketch” remark was not inapt. It accurately “expressed what  . . . the Romney campaign really does think.”

    So . . .

    The best way for Romney to fix his credibility problem is to fire the person on his campaign team who told the truth.

    The best way to fix a lie is to punish whoever tells the truth! Even if it’s unjust to do so.

    Hmmmm?!?!?!

    This kind of logic might make some folks cynical, because cynicism usually fills the void left by the sudden dissipation of a pleasing and long-cherished ignorance.

    Are Romney supporters feeling cynical?

    Or are they still cherishing the pleasing notion that Romney is a conservative?

  19. Scott R

    I read very little into the gaffe itself, but it most definitely was a gaffe. Thank God Almighty Romney himself didn’t say it.

    The Romney campaign needs to resolve to take the entire day off immediately following major primary victories.

  20. James Of England
    Frozen Chosen: While it’s true that all candidates tack to the center in the general election, this comment by Mr Fehrnstrom is just plain stupid – not to mention cocky.

    I agree with Leporello that a demotion would be in order. · 18 minutes ago

    I don’t think McCain did, and I don’t think Romney can or will; he’s detailed a lot of his key plans in ways that give him a heavily reduced wiggle room. He can shift his focus, but not his policies.

    I agree that it would be helpful for Mr. Fehrnstrom to go, but feel that Game Change reminds us of the paramount virtue of loyalty. As the old saying goes, pay ‘em satanic wages and you’ll get Steve Schmidts. Fortunately, at some point in the next month or so (the end of April at the latest), Romney should be transforming his campaign to turn the last remaining guns away from Santorum and Newt and focus them all on Obama. This would be an excellent time to bring someone (or several people) on board to replace Mr. Fehrnstrom, who would be retained in some less public position.