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In defense of Eric Fehrnstrom, post-Etch A Sketch gaffe

March 22, 2012

A too-casual remark by Eric Fehrnstrom, Mitt Romney’s right-hand man, went viral yesterday after he said the post-primary phase is “like a Etch A Sketch. You can shake it up and we start all over again.”

Democrats and Romney’s rivals are having a field day with Fernstrom’s blunder.

“Romney Etch A Sketch” is the first response now if you start filling in “Romney” on Google.

There’s a whole of lot media dissection, from how this represents a rare misstep for Fehrnstrom* to why some gaffes take off and others don’t

And it’s easy to imagine the ensuing campaign commercial: an outline of Romney gets repeatedly shaken up on an Etch A Sketch board, accompanied by a voiceover darkly painting him as someone who keeps changing shape.

But if you take out the “Etch A Sketch” mention, Fehrnstrom’s commentary would have been wholly unremarkable.

You can bet he’d like to walk back the gaffe. And sure, high-priced political handlers should bring their A-game while speaking to the media, let alone an outlet such as CNN.

But Fehrnstrom was mostly acknowledging a time-honored political truth; Democrats tend to tack to the left during primaries, and Republicans to the right, before they reach for the center during general elections.

The Etch A Sketch caper sparked a rapt reaction since it was simple, easy to understand, self-damaging, and highly impolitic. These same reasons help explain why we live in an age when most politicians remain constantly on-message, fearful of making a goofy mistake.

*Fun fact/disclosure: Fehrnstrom graduated ahead of me from Boston University. I once gave him a lift to work when he was at the Boston Herald. We haven’t talked in years.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. scott mackay permalink
    March 22, 2012 9:13 pm

    Point well taken Idawg!

  2. Mister Guy permalink
    March 22, 2012 10:58 pm

    I also get what Mr. Fehrnstrom was trying to say, and he’s right…but only to a certain extent. It’s not like vast majorities of the voting public has never heard of Romney or of his many different positions on many different issues. Mr. Fehrnstrom is right that primary campaigns are different than general election campaigns, but his silly analogy only feeds into the real issue that Romney treats elections like business transactions…where Romney is the seller & the voters are the buyers. Don’t like what he’s selling today? No matter…he’ll change his fundamental positions on key issues depending on which election audience he’s trying to “seal the deal” with…general election voters in MA, primary voters in a national GOP primary, general election voters in a national election, etc., etc….

    Twenty or thirty years ago, Romney would be an average GOP voter’s dream…now, the GOP has changed dramatically so that he’s viewed as too “moderate”. The simple fact is that you fundamentally can’t trust someone like Romney to actually say what he actually believes on actual issues. If elected as President of the USA (which is not going to happen in 2012), Romney could be one of the more liberal GOP Presidents in modern history or he could be very “conservative” as President…who knows…

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