The Etch-A-Sketch Candidate?

If you haven’t yet heard about the Etch-A-Sketch flap, you’ve probably been hibernating somewhere. It’s worth reviewing, however, as it provides a glimpse into the mindset of those who are running the Romney campaign. On Wednesday, the day after the Illinois primary, which Romney won, one of his senior aides, Eric Fehrnstrom, was asked on CNN if the primary had dragged Romney “so far to the right, it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.”

Quick observation: I challenge anyone to find any interview anywhere on the mainstream media that includes a question to a Democratic candidate about being dragged “too far to the left.” Your search will be in vain. Such questions are reserved for Republicans only; the media is already so far to the left that anything mainstream appears to them to be extreme right.

Back to the question at hand.

Fehrnstrom caused a mini-firestorm with his response. He soothed the questioner’s fears by stating that this was a primary, and once it was over, Romney’s positions would change. Or at least that’s the way it came across. Specifically, Fehrnstrom said, “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.”

So is that how the Romney team wants to operate? Can its candidate simply change gears and become something else? The old concern resurfaces: what is this man’s core? What does he really believe?

The Washington Examiner‘s Phil Klein accurately expressed the feelings of many conservatives when he wrote:

This is an incredible admission and a window into the way Romney views politics. Romney ran two races in Massachusetts as a moderate, and even a self-described “progressive,” before changing his positions in the run up to his first campaign for president. Just last month, he described himself as “severely conservative” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But as Fehrnstrom’s statement suggests, Romney’s appeals to the right are simply a matter of positioning rather than principle, something that can easily be changed once the target audience changes. 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 is coming from one of Romney’s longtime 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.

Romney supporters are quick to say that this is only prudence, that any candidate would have to switch gears to win the general election because the moderates need to be won over. That’s conventional wisdom, to be sure. But what about the base? Will the candidate win if he alienates those who form the foundational support for his candidacy? If Romney is a conservative, he’s always had a strange way of showing it. The Etch-A-Sketch controversy only adds to the consternation of conservatives.

I will continue to entertain my doubts as to Romney’s genuineness. He has not won me over, and I’m sure I can speak for a significant segment of the Republican base.