Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Etch A Sketch politics: Coming clean about Mitt Romney

So let's get this straight: Romney wins Illinois, a big state, by a significant margin, increasing his delegate lead over Santorum and cementing his status not just as frontrunner but as inevitable nominee, and then, just a day later, just the morning after, with all the momentum on his side, his top communications person comes out and says this on CNN:

CNN: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?

Eric Fehrnstrom: Well, 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 restart all over again.

It's like the Romney campaign, if not Romney himself, is purposefully trying to sabotage his candidacy, or at least to keep the race competitive by giving more and more material to his opponents.

This isn't just about the primary campaign. For years now, ever since he left Massachusetts for the national stage, Romney has tried hard -- pathetically so -- to present himself as an ideologically rigid conservative, a purist, in order to appeal to the Republican base, to the primary voters who decide who the nominee will be, as well as to movement conservatives who want one of their own atop the GOP ticket. Indeed, he's gone so far to the right, at least rhetorically, that he's been outflanking the likes of Rick Perry (on immigration).

But now? His campaign is basically telling us that it's all a massive lie, a shameless vote grab. We've known this all along, but it's nice to get this sort of definitive confirmation from his own people.

But what will conservatives make of this, those against Romney or more immediately those on the fence? Will they really buy into Romney now even if he is the inevitable nominee? If Romney had a credibility/authenticity problem before, it's only worse now.

And, already, Santorum and Gingrich are running with the Etch A Sketch line, using the thing itself as a prop, as is the Obama campaign. (In terms of newsworthiness, it's trumping the Jeb Bush endorsement of Romney today.) And can you blame them? Particularly his two Republican rivals, who needed something, anything to kick-start their campaigns, and here's Romney's own campaign handing them a gift-wrapped masterpiece of a gaffe.

For Santorum, in particular, this unforced error is a last shred of hope that he can actually pull this off, if can finally convince enough Republicans that Romney is a phony who is simply not to be trusted.

Throughout the campaign, largely because his opposition has been so weak, his rivals fighting amongst themselves, Romney has managed to keep the lie going, including on Romneycare, without much in the way of effectual debunking. Newt tried, calling Romney "a timid Massachusetts moderate Republican," but didn't get very far (largely because Newt is Newt), while Santorum has been hitting him hard and winning battles here and there but losing the war. I doubt this Etch A Sketch gaffe will be enough to bring Romney down, but it certainly gives Santorum some powerful ammunition, just what he needed after losing Illinois and otherwise looking like more and more of a long shot.

Yes, Romney will be the nominee, but it would appear that his own worst enemy is, as usual, himself.

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