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Etch-A-Sketchy Romney

Here is the comment of astute conservative commentator Yuval Levin on the recent mega-gaffe by Romney’s communications director:

If, say, yesterday, you had asked me what kind of statement by a Romney campaign person would do the most damage to Romney’s support among conservatives, and if I had then strained to imagine the stupidest thing they could possibly say, I might well have come up with something like Eric Fehrnstrom’s comment on CNN that regardless of what Romney says to conservatives during the primaries he can just “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.” But then I would have thought that no political professional—indeed, no adult who has ever been around conservative politics or thought about it much—would ever say something so patently foolish, which so thoroughly confirms every worry that every conservative has about the candidate for whom he works.

Fehrnstrom didn’t mean what’s true and obvious:  All candidates in both parties face two quite different audiences during a presidential campaign.  The primary and caucus voters will be quite ideological (unusually conservative or unusually liberal), and the November general electorate much more moderate.  And so it’s inevitable that the emphases of campaigns will change.

Nobody really blames a candidate for facing up to that semi-Machiavellian reality. But voters are still insulted, for very understandable reasons, when candidates brag about what they have to do in public.  The implication, of course, is that voters are pretty dumb and easily fooled.  Maybe they are, but the worst strategy for fooling them is to brag that you’re fooling them.

Fehrstrom went as far as to say that there’s no real Romney.  So one sketched Romney can readily be replaced by another.  It’s not just a change in emphasis.  It’s a whole new guy!  

Conservatives have been concerned that Romney’s not one of them.  They have him on record as favoring healthcare mandates and forcing up gas prices to limit consumption.  They even say that he’s been educated to be a manager, not a man of principle.  And he’ll mend Obamacare, not end it.

Someone might say that’s what the voters in November really want.  The hyper-competent and self-disciplined Mitt will convince them that he’ll do a better job of saving their entitlements than the president.  I can actually see that the sketch of managerial Mitt might be the ticket to victory.

Thats not, however, the Mitt majority of Republican primary and caucus voters want to believe in.

Someone might also say that the timing of the mega-gaffe is perfect for Romney. At his point, there’s no conservative candidate who can effectively exploit it.  The delegate math pointing to his nomination is invincible.  Sure Romney’s all sketchy, the advisor brags, but there’s not a darn thing you Republicans can do about it now.

Meanwhile, liberals and especially moderates can believe that there’s no “authentic” Mitt (as there surely is an authentic Rick Santorum) who’ll get in the way of doing the prudent thing.

When the typical person calls someone nonideological, he or she usually means someone who sensibly agrees with ME.


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