So what does the Etch A Sketch firestorm really mean for the Romney campaign?
The answer is bad news and good news depending on where you stand politically.
For the record, here is the entire exchange that has the chattering class all a twitter.
HOST: 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?
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.
First, here is the bad news.
Fehrnstrom’s answer about a reset for the fall campaign is exactly the reason why Romney has not caught fire with the base. Sure, they may eventually hold their noses and vote for him but Fehrnstrom’s statement is significant because it is so visual.
An Etch A Sketch symbolizes what the Republican base thinks are Romney’s loosely held views that will be erased when it is politically expedient to do so. The even worse news is Fehrnstrom’s remark has wiped away all the momentum Romney had after winning the Illinois primary coupled with Jeb Bush’s sought after endorsement. Both events were significant and both allowed Romney to breathe easier on his way to sealing the deal for the nomination. Romney will still be the nominee of course, but an Etch A Sketch will forever stand as the symbol of mistrust with the base.
Now here is the good news.
Moderates and independent voters in key battleground states who are looking for an alternative to President Obama are generally not scared off by Romney’s brand of conservatism. They think in his heart he is a moderate who has been forced to the right by the likes of Gingrich, Santorum and a rabid red-meat base who now comprise the majority of Republican primary voters. They are assuming and fully expecting that Romney will move to the middle for the general election.
So from a moderate voter point of view, Fehrnstrom’s remark makes sense and is possibly a sigh of relief. Of course exactly how Romney moves to the middle and on what issues, is still to be determined.
However, here is where the general election stands now.
The Real Clear Politics average has Romney losing to Obama by 4.5%. So clearly Romney needs to make major headway across the political spectrum if he is to capture the White House and have some coat-tails to help win the Senate and keep the House.
Unfortunately, Etch A Sketch will now be the symbol of the “anyway the wind blows”, flip-flopper argument that President George W. Bush successfully used against Senator John Kerry in 2004. An argument that Obama had already fully intended to use against Romney even before he was handed the Etch A Sketch gift.
For in politics, once you give voters a strong symbol that represents an existing narrative, that symbol becomes who you are.
Just ask John Kerry who is forever linked with windsurfing.