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An Etch-a-Sketchy Remark from a Romney Aide

You know, just yesterday morning, I had chuckled about how Mitt Romney follows every primary victory with some terrible gaffe — “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” etc.

But Romney is growing as a candidate, hitting his stride, remembering the managerial skills that helped him achieve success in life. For example, now he’s outsourcing the gaffes, leaving that task to folks who work for him, like Eric Fehrnstrom.

Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on Wednesday said that, despite a long primary fight, the general election would practically be a blank slate for the GOP presidential hopeful.

“It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch — you shake it all up and start over again,” he told CNN of the general election.

Fehrnstrom was responding to questions from CNN’s “Starting Point” panel on Romney’s appeal to the wider Republican party.

He defended Romney’s appeal to a broad base when asked if he’s concerned that, under pressure from Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, the candidate is tacking too “far to the right” in his positions — and therefore alienating centrists.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom said.

This comment left many on the Right . . . well, shaken.

“A candidate shouldn’t have to clarify the remarks of his own communications director,” suggests John Podhoretz.

Phil Klein was never a big fan of Mitt Romney, but Wednesday he seemed somewhere between gobsmacked and apoplectic in response to the remark:

Ever since he launched his first bid for the presidency over five years ago, critics have argued that Mitt Romney’s conservative positions aren’t sincere, and that he would start to abandon them once he was no longer trying to appeal to the Republican primary electorate. I just never expected one of his chief campaign staffers to openly admit it. Yet feeling cocky after Mitt Romney’s strong victory in Illinois, top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom did just that . . .

If Romney’s fiercest critics wanted to come up with a way to describe Romney’s approach to politics, I don’t think they could have come up with a better analogy than Etch A Sketch. The fact that it’s coming from one of Romney’s long-time aides is stunning. An even scarier thought for conservatives: if the Romney campaign is willing to take them for granted before even clinching the nomination, imagine how quickly Romney would abandon conservatives if he ever made it to the White House.

Allahpundit calls it “a comment so stupidly vivid and vividly stupid given Romney’s vulnerabilities that it ends up being more effective than 99 percent of the attacks Santorum and Gingrich have lobbed at Mitt.”

“I personally fall somewhere in between the two conservative camps on this one,” concludes Guy Benson in an excellent roundup on the topic. “I’ve raised serious doubts as to whether Mitt Romney is really the born-again committed conservative he claims to be, and I maintain many of those concerns. Given Romney’s long record of changing positions and the resulting avalanche criticism, Romney’s campaign should be acutely aware of jitters regarding their guy’s fealty to the movement’s animating ideas. That reality is what makes Fehrnstrom’s formulation on CNN so astonishingly foolish. I know from personal experience that live TV can be pressure-filled and dizzyingly fast-paced at times, so I can empathize with foot-in-mouth moments. That being said, this is the biggest of leagues, and major missteps are costly. One of Mitt Romney’s closest aide has managed to extend the campaign’s habit of poisoning their own post-election victory lap by committing a seismic unforced error, and Team Santorum is rightly disseminating this clip far and wide, breathing oxygen into their life-support campaign. On the other hand, I tend to think Fehrnstrom really was just referring to the natural evolutionary step that virtually every campaign takes between an internecine nominating fight and a fall election.”

Indeed, what Fehrnstrom did was say explicitly what every campaign does quietly when a primary ends. The goal stops being to win a majority of support among members of the candidate’s party to winning a majority of support within the electorate at large. Very, very rarely does a campaign not have to change its sales pitch as the target audience changes.

Leave it to Mickey Kaus to find the counter-intuitive thought in all this: “The Etch-a-Sketch has legs. But now it’s a bit *harder* for Mitt to abandon tough immigration/union positions, no?”

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