Etch-A-Sketch: Can Mitt Romney shake off his aide's Mr. Potato Head gaffe? (+video)

Mitt Romney rivals have had their fun with senior aide Eric Fehrnstrom's Etch-A-Sketch comment about appealing to moderates in the fall, but the jokes don't really undermine his strong position.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to the crowd during a victory rally in Schaumburg, Ill., after winning the Illinois Republican presidential primary, on March 20.
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Is Mitt Romney an Etch-A-Sketch candidate, one whose positions can be erased with a shake, ready for a new and different drawing?

That’s an analogy that’s getting a lot of discussion today in the Washington professional political class following a comment made by senior Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN. Asked whether conservatives Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had pushed Mr. Romney so far to the right that he’ll have trouble with moderates in a general election, Mr. Fehrnstrom said that wouldn’t be a problem.

“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 it all over again,” Fehrnstrom said.

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That comment – which appears to imply that Romney can forget what he’s said and take new stands in the fall – came bouncing back to whack the Romney camp faster than a SuperBall pitched against a concrete wall. The Santorum campaign sent out an email alerting reporters to Fehrnstrom’s words, claiming they’re proof that Romney is a Massachusetts moderate.

“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,” said Santorum national communications director Hogan Gridley in a statement.

Gingrich piled on, adding via Twitter that “Etch-A-Sketch is a great toy but a losing strategy. We need a nominee w/bold conservative solutions.”

Democratic strategists gleefully retweeted these remarks, hoping to sow chaos in the GOP ranks, while the blogosphere resounded with Romney critics opining as to what other toys he has in his closet: My Little Phony, Gumby, a Hot Wheels Dog Carrier, and so forth.

Very funny. But will this incident hurt Romney, or simply launch a flotilla of bad jokes? We’re guessing the latter. It’ll be gone faster than you can erase a ... well, you know. Etch-A-Sketch references stop here. We promise.

Why? First of all, Romney’s had a pretty good week, in case you didn’t notice. He won the Illinois primary in a walk. Jeb Bush endorsed him, in essence saying to others in the GOP, “it’s time to end this now.”

In other words, Romney has pretty much won. All that’s left is for Santorum and Gingrich to realize that they’ve become zombie candidates. Fehrnstrom’s comments won’t help rivals who have already lost.

Second, Romney’s got a rebuttal: Fehrnstrom wasn’t talking about him. The aide was talking about the fall campaign.

That’s what Fehrnstrom himself now says. He’s emailed reporters an explanation, in which he says what he meant was “as we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes. 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.”

Third, even if Romney does, um, recalibrate some of his past positions, that’s what most of the punditocracy expects. So they won’t treat it as any big deal.

Liberal commentator Greg Sargent pointed this out today in his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post. A CNN panel of commentators following Fehrnstrom’s remarks took them matter-of-factly, as if they recognized business as usual, Mr. Sargent said.

“It seems likely that many commentators will forget all about Romney’s flirtation with far right positions and grant him the presumption of moderation the second he becomes the nominee,” writes Sargent.

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