While “Etch-a-Sketch” Is Sinking In, Romney Is Sinking

How Much Damage?

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.



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11 Responses to While “Etch-a-Sketch” Is Sinking In, Romney Is Sinking

  1. the unit says:

    I’ve watched that video above in this article etch a sketch while thinking…til it’s coming out my nose and ears.  Why only Romney there featured and shaken out and back again?  You can put in most presidents and contenders for the last few decades leading us to globalism.  That is their accepted order of things. We are not going to vote on it.  It’ll be Executive (World) Order #……

  2. the unit says:

    On being afraid…try this…Paul Harvey in 2007.


  3. StuartW says:

    This was a silly comment – TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT –  by a campaign aide. Only the hardcore political people care about Etch-a-Sketch. While I realize this is a huge issue to you, the overwhelming majority of Americans care about those little issues – you know, debt, economy, job creation, taxes, energy, gas prices, Iran, leadership – than they do in a little toy.

    All you are doing is repeating the Conventional Wisdom. And as I have said over and over, the CW is wrong at least 85% of the time. Remember when the CW said that Obama would govern from the Center? Yeah, they got that one right, didn’t they

    • Mark America says:

      StuartW, Thanks for stopping in. I never believed Obama would govern from the center. I knew he was a radical at least as early as 2004 when the Democrats had him speak at their convention, because I did research on him then.

      Also, be advised that “etch-a-sketch” is a huge deal because it is emblematic of Mitt Romney’s entire sorry problem with conservatives: He has no conservative core beliefs.

      Now you can say this doesn’t matter to most Americans because they don’t pay attention to this stuff, but to primary voters it does matter, and most of them ARE paying at least some attention. “Hardcore political people” as you seem to consider those of us who do pay attention may constitute a small percentage of the populace, but I think that’s rather sad. These are people participating in the process at least at some level. Is there something wrong with that?

      As for “conventional wisdom,” I don’t think it has anything to do with this. Americans do care about the issues about which you spoke, but the problem is that the toy is symbolic of how one candidate will be likely to govern with respect to all of those. If it wasn’t important, and if it wasn’t hurting Mitt Romney, you wouldn’t be here minimizing it. I’d be happy to make a laundry list for you of all the things “conventional wisdom” has reported in the brief span this blog has been up, and I countered with my own view, and let you figure out which had been correct. I think Romney desperately wishes to avoid “Etch-a-Sketch” becoming the conventional wisdom about he and his campaign.

    • JohnInFlorida says:

       StuartW, can you say “Liberal Republican”?

      Look it up in the dictionary and there’s Mitts picture!

      THAT’S why Romney has a problem with conservatives, disguise him however you will, his liberalism peeks out. And when it comes to facing Obama … he’s Dole, he’s McCain, he’s Gramnesty, et al … he’s a LOSER vs Obama.

  4. Dagger82 says:

    Stuart, I too would like to chime in on the slip of tongue by a “campaign aide.”  In every army, there are critical functions that must handled by top notch technicians led by officers of the highest caliber.  Without those in command exhibiting punctilious skill, disarray through the rank-and-file cannot be overcome no matter how accurate and precise subordinate leaders may be.  Commonly known by the term C3I (command, control, communications, & intelligence), one should readily understand why each of these functions is critical to success. 
    Eric Fehrnstrom is much more than a mere campaign aide.  He is Mitt Romney’s general over all communications, both inside and external to the campaign.  As such, every subordinate knows and understands the political philosophy of candidate Romney, as preached and underscored by his Director of Communications.  Both official and impromptu interactions with media and each other reflect that philosophy.  So, while developing schemes or videos or planning engagements, campaign aides and others tell jokes, speak freely, and generally “let it all hang out.”

    When the head honcho goes on national tv and slips up with an apparent gaffe, it lends credence to the fact that there’s truth imbedded and is known throughout the organization.  That the analogy was so clear as to confirm what was suspected all along was absolutely damning.  And, no amount of damage control will be sufficient to overcome the intangible belief that Mitt Romney is anything other than a windsock changing direction at a wisp of wind.

    As many think and have repeated throughout this primary season, including Mark at frequent intervals, Mitt Romney is member to the Republican establishment whose strength is insufficient to overcome the President’s machine because there’s little difference.

    • StuartW says:

      Thomas, while I appreciate your explanation, I simply think you are taking this way too far. Romney is running a race right now to win the nomination. Should he win, he will have to switch and run a brand new race against Obama. The same situation would apply to Newt or Santorum if they won. This does not mean that Romney will change his views.

      This “General”, as you call him, as been with Romney for years. Do you really think he would make such a statement, even if he meant it?

      This is just a desperate attempt to deny Romney – plain and simple. And you appear to be a smart enough man to recognize that.Seriously, for a Presidential nominee to go on stage with a $5 toy is juvenile. What’s next – a Hulu Hoop and a Slinky?

      • Dagger82 says:

        Thanks for the reply, Stuart.  I fully acknowledge that campaign mechanics involve restructure and modification throughout to general election.  And these necessary shifts, moves, course corrections, and clarifications help energize the life and drive of the quest culminating in election.  Eric Fehrnstrom is certainly adept at translating those necessary tactics in media terms so as to inspire technicians’ production.

        But, one must remember that ‘course correction’ doesn’t correspond to 180 degree reversal, at least not to you and me (and other voters).  To Eric though, there are times when he views the need for enhanced communication to mean ‘explain why the candidate previously said this, but now must say that’ – reversing the point of view.  To him this is normal course of business, a challenge if you will, for him as a top-notch campaign leader.  He is of the politically elite who view the ‘how he does it’ as important as ‘will the electorate believe it.’

        I would cite examples, yet this link offers sufficient evidence of point:  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/03/romney_s_etch_a_sketch_how_eric_fehrnstrom_helps_candidates_erase_their_positions_.html  These folks operate within a different cultural environment than average Americans. So they will, at times, slip up while forgetting who the audience is they’re addressing.I think that’s what happened on CNN.  Eric and his people understand the concept of wiping the slate – necessary, yet understandable.  And, he subconsciously accepted that the CNN media folk know this type of campaign maneuver occurs and usually key on those things.  But, in this case Eric simply referred to the strategy in passing, never anticipating the audience would recognize what ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ actions by an electoral campaign engenders.

        In closing, you may be right that Mr Fehrnstrom used a quick analogy to describe campaign machinations.  Yet, it’s clear enough to me that folks who are imbedded to the political class are schooled to manipulate the ‘hearts and minds’ of the masses.  When a crack in their facade shows through, they’re very embarrassed and pull out all the stops for damage control.  And, as for the $5.00 toy ~ one picture is worth 1,000 words, so they say.

  5. the unit says:

    Has anyone tried doing Obama on Etch A Sketch?  I don’t have one or I would.  Would you need a theme switcher to do it?  
    Toy might need an update.  When I was a kid in grammer school…Crayons by Crayola had a ‘flesh’ color in the box of colors.  Of course box had color of God’s little children, red, yellow, black and white.  Need I say ‘flesh’ was not one of those colors?  

    Maybe my box way back then was sold only south of the Mason Dixon Line. I really don’t think so.

    You can call me naive…but in those days when Dad, Bro, and I, even Mom…hunted and fished in the ’40’s and 50’s for vittles(not snacks by internet definition)…what we skinned, dressed, and filleted was all the same color inside. It was flesh.

    Funny ‘flesh’ disappeared without congressional action, executive order, or ruling of SCOTUS .  Not saying there were not lawsuits or threats of lawsuits that I never knew about.

    It’s all dust in the end.

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