As conservatives and Tea Party types begin to realize the full meaning of “Etch-a-Sketch,” the first gaps in Romney’s armor have begun to show. Wrapped in a suit of campaign cash and superPAC support, Mitt Romney has been able to fend off almost every charge against him by virtue of a strategy of non-response combined with a campaign of big money advertising hammering his opponents. At last report, he was outspending Rick Santorum in Wisconsin by a ratio of 50:1, but the problem for Mitt Romney is that all the money in the world won’t save him from the “Etch-a-Sketch” remarks of his Communications Director Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN. That video has gone viral, and in its wake is a roiling sea of doubt: Is Mitt Romney faking his way through the primary season as a conservative? Romney’s camp is quietly scrambling to undo the damage, but this horse in this story has escaped the barn.
Naturally, the first option for the Romney campaign was to redirect the controversy onto somebody else. Rick Santorum’s remarks served as the outrage to which the Romney camp could point in desperate distraction mode, and for a time, it seemed that the theme would gain traction as a few people decided to carry his water, but the problem is that pointing at Santorum’s remark does nothing to blunt the impact of Fehrnstrom’s remarks. After the mini-Jihad against Rick Santorum began to fade, the question voters still faced about Romney hadn’t been shaken out of existence in the Romney campaign’s etch-a-sketch play. This has been the object of the Romney campaign all along, and while some may have missed the point at first, they’re now coming back to it, because if the truth is told about this fiasco, the problem for Romney is that the minds of conservative voters aren’t like Etch-a-Sketch drawings after all, and as annoyed as some may have been with Rick Santorum’s remarks, it’s nevertheless true that the impetus for those remarks has not been erased.
Romney’s negatives have been on a steady climb for some time, and this is beginning to present a real problem. This is the reason the GOP establishment is on a full-court press to stop the conversation, and pull the plug on further debate. This week, they played their big cards in this deal, throwing the Jeb Bush endorsement out along with a statement that it’s time to consolidate and coalesce, and while he didn’t fully endorse Mitt Romney, even Jim DeMint(R-SC) began to sound the tones of bringing this campaign season to a speedier conclusion. The party simply does not want the primary debate to continue, because with each passing day, despite gaining a few more delegates, Mitt Romney has begun to take on the appearance of a candidate without the conservative horsepower to bring along the base. If he can’t do that, he can’t win in November, and the GOP establishment is acutely aware that while he may get the nomination, his prospects for victory are slipping away. Their nightmare scenario is a brokered convention, because they may not have enough delegates on the first vote to bring this to a speedy conclusion, and if they don’t get them then, it is entirely possible they never will.
What Romney had needed this week was a knock-out punch on Santorum, but instead, what they managed was a self-inflicted wound that they rushed out to cover up with a counter-attack on Santorum. In the waning of the furor over Santorum’s indelicate remarks, the problem remains that all the talk about Santorum has done nothing to reduce the effect of the “Etch-a-Sketch” problem, and now even Charles Krauthammer has weighed in on the damage:
The fact that Krauthammer sees the damage plainly should tell you about the impact the “Etch-a-Sketch” remark is having, but you may also notice that Krauthammer places the blame on Romney’s staff. While it’s true that Fehrnstrom’s description of the campaign as like an “Etch-a-sketch” was in poor form, it’s really not Fehrnstrom’s fault. What Krauthammer seems to lament most is not the facts that underlie the remark, but that the remark slipped out there in plain view.
In this sense, Krauthammer misses the real point of this episode, and it’s one the conservative base of the party isn’t missing: Mitt Romney evinces no solid core of beliefs, and his half-decade long campaign for the Presidency is built on many instances of shaking up the Etch-a-Mitt. Romney’s positions on various issues have changed, re-shaped, “perfected,” and re-drawn so many times that conservative voters have suspected this all along, and all Fehrnstrom’s comments to CNN did was to solidify that impression, and it’s not so likely to be erased by a gentle or even vigorous shaking. Krauthammer’s real disappointment here is that Fehrnstrom spilled the beans, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the facts that support the disclosure.
This should offer you a bit of insight into the mechanics of Washington DC. Krauthammer is more concerned with the impression it leaves than the fact that it seems to be true. This is how everything in Washington is viewed: Through the sorry, distorting lens of politics. It’s not a question of what an event means in fact, but what impression it will make. It’s not a matter of what is truth, but instead merely a concern over how a thing is perceived. Krauthammer isn’t exercised over the fact that Romney may indeed “Etch-a-Sketch” his campaign appeal if he obtains the nomination, but that his Communications Director would openly admit this is a mortal sin. You see, the reason he isn’t bothered by the former, but is so disappointed in the latter is because he’s part of the crowd that knows this is what Romney’s about, and while they have worked to conceal it from the eyes of voters, Fehrnstrom’s little disclosure made plain what they have toiled to keep secret, or at least tamped-down.
This is a sort of admission that I wonder if Krauthammer won’t later regret, because it exemplifies what’s wrong inside the Beltway, not just in government, but in the sickening media that services it. They don’t exist to inform you or keep you abreast of critical issues so much as to manage your opinions and tell you what should be important. What Fehrnstrom has inadvertently managed to do is open a window not only into the Romney campaign, but also into the diseased mindset of Washington DC on both in front and behind the camera. Krauthammer’s remarks prove it, but it may be too late. If conservatives ignore this, Romney might be able to pull off the nomination in spite of it all. On the other hand, as Krauthammer’s commentary also demonstrates, it seems that conservatives have finally seen the cracks in the Romney facade, and there may be no filling them any longer.