Now that he’s a few steps closer to winning the nomination, is Mitt Romney about to wipe clean all that he has said during the tough nomination fight?
Comments by his top communication’s adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, suggest maybe so. And the “Etch A Sketch” gaffe, as it’s already known, has stirred a hornet’s nest on Twitter and a blast of criticism from Mr. Romney’s top rivals.
Speaking on CNN Wednesday morning, Mr. Fehrnstrom was asked if the campaign worried that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich “might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.”
To which Mr. Ferhnstrom responded: “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 of over again.”
Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley quickly denounced the comment. “We all knew Mitt Romney didn’t have any core convictions, but we appreciate his staff going on national television to affirm that point for anyone who had any doubts,” he said in a statement.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul returned fire, saying the remark should be taken in the proper context. “As we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes,” she said. “It’s a different race, with different candidates, and the main issue now becomes President Obama’s failure to create jobs and get this economy moving.”
The Romney campaign has established a tradition of stepping on its own applause lines the day after a big victory. It happened in Florida, when Mr. Romney said on CNN that he didn’t care about the very poor. And the remarks Wednesday came just hours after Mr. Romney’s big win in Illinois.
Tacking to the center after a tough primary season is nothing new in American presidential politics. But talking about that intention in public while still caught in a nomination fight is unusual, to say the least, especially since Mr. Romney is still trying to convince conservatives he is one of them.
Update: Wash Wire rounds up the quickie videos riffing on the Etch A Sketch remarks.
Update 2: Rick Santorum on Wednesday pounded on Mr. Romney as the “Etch-A-Sketch candidate,”
vowing to tag his rival with the label through the Louisiana primary and beyond. “You’re not looking for someone who is the etch-a-sketch candidate,” he told an audience in Mandeville, La., at an event organized by the North Shore Tea Party. He said voters need a candidate “who writes what they believe in stone and stays true to what they say.” More.
Update 3: An aide to Rick Santorum popped by Mitt Romney’s event in Arbutus, Md., Wednesday to dole out mini Etch A Sketches and slam the former Massachusetts governor as a faux conservative. ”You either have conservative credentials or you don’t,” Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Santorum campaign, said to a group of reporters in a parking lot outside of Mr. Romney’s campaign event. “The campaign acknowledged that his conservative credentials can come and go with the climate, just like an Etch A Sketch, and we can’t have that.”
Update 4: Mitt Romney branded himself a “conservative Republican” and said his stance on the issues wouldn’t change in the general election as his campaign spent the day under fire after his adviser’s “Etch A Sketch” remark. ”The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same,” Mr. Romney said in a one-question, Q-and-A with reporters after a campaign stop. ” I’m running as a conservative Republican, I was a conservative Republican governor, I’ll be running as a conservative republican nominee…The policies and positions are the same.” More.
Update 5: To bring this post to a close, here is the statement from Nicole Gresh, a spokeswoman for Etch A Sketch maker Ohio Art:
“Happy to see Etch A Sketch, an American classic toy, is DRAWING attention with political candidates as a cultural icon and important piece of our society. A profound toy, highly recognized and loved by all, is now SHAKING up the national debate. Nothing is as quintessentially American as Etch A Sketch and a good old fashion political debate.
“We are pleased with the added attention being drawn to Etch A Sketch which is truly one of the most recognizable, iconic and fun toys ever developed. As one of the most classic toys of all time, Etch A Sketch has always sold particularly well with today’s consumer. It is too early to tell, but we are hopeful to see if there is an uptake in sales given this recent exposure.”