Visual source: Newseum
See what I did with that title there? Uh-huh. Puns abound everywhere as the story about Eric Fehrnstrom Etch-A-Sketch flub refuses to die down.
Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post examines why the gaffe by Mitt Romney’s advisor might be here to stay:
All political gaffes are not created equal.
Some come to define campaigns, others disappear in a single news cycle (or sometimes less).
So what differentiates the gaffes that enter campaign folklore from those that even the most committed political junkies struggle to recall even a few weeks after they happen?
It’s actually a relatively simple answer: Gaffes that matter are those that speak to a larger narrative about a candidate or a doubt/worry that voters already have about that particular candidate.
That’s exactly what Fehrnstorm’s metaphor accomplished. “Flip flopper,” “Multiple Choice Mitt” — good moniker’s for Romney’s inconsistency to be sure, but nowhere near as beautifully sharp as “Etch-A-Sketch candidate.” Turning the left knob, turning the right knob, sketching out positions as time wanes one, shaking off one’s record and starting all over again — it may not be what Romney’s advisor meant but it works.
It’s not surprising that the best metaphor for Romney’s candidacy came from the mouth of one of his most trusted advisors. After all, he knows the “real” Romney the best, and his insight — accidental or not, misinterpreted or not — cuts to the very core of Romney’s character.
Neil Steinberg at The Chicago Sun-Times also takes on the perfect nature of the metaphor:
What better symbol could there be for Romney, a habitual liar whose shapeshifting belief system is a matter of public record? The man’s an Etch A Sketch. [...] I’m not gloating. I hope this doesn’t hurt him too deeply. I’m glad Romney seems to be winning the Republican nomination over the Bible-thumping bully Santorum and the deeply cynical demagogue Gingrich. Romney would be a hapless, prevaricating president — Warren Beatty playing the president in a lame 1970s comedy. But we’re used to that, and a lot of the positions he’s forced to embrace now are worth blithely abandoning. I can tolerate the possibility — remote and getting remoter — of a Romney presidency for the same reason that so many Republicans can’t stand him: He believes in nothing. Which sounds bad, but I’d rather have Romney licking his finger and testing the wind to figure out who he is that day than Santorum wielding the blunt instrument of his changeless, lead-pipe certainties.
Still, it is a golden gaffe, one that should be savored, one that will be talked about for as long as people discuss political campaigns. But just remember — Etch A Sketch isn’t why Romney will lose this November. He was going to lose anyway.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis at Bloomberg brings us opinions about how the campaign stumble echoes the campaigns of Dukakis and Quale:
“The power of metaphor is the moment that’s bigger than the moment itself — it’s the one instance that tells you the whole story — and that’s what this was,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who is unaffiliated with a campaign.
He compared Romney’s Etch A Sketch woes to a moment from the 1988 presidential campaign, when former Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis — perceived as being weak on defense — rode around in a tank, wearing a smile under a combat helmet while visiting a factory in Michigan. Republicans criticized Dukakis for turning his tour in war machinery into a political photo-op. He lost to George H.W. Bush.
“When Michael Dukakis got into his tank with his little helmet, it didn’t feel like he was large enough and strong enough for the job of commander in chief. It didn’t cut a new wound, but it opened an old one and revealed something big and true,” Castellanos said, adding that the Etch A Sketch comment had the same effect. [...]
“It was a defining moment of the worst kind imaginable,” Quayle would later write in his autobiography, “Standing Firm.” “Politicians live and die by the symbolic sound bite.”
Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal acknowledges the weaknesses in Romney’s campaign but then claims that he can shake things up in the general:
He always keeps you from celebrating him. Every time you want to—he sweeps Illinois, he gives a good acceptance speech—he gives you reasons not to. He should take to hiding out after victory. [...] It is not fatal that Mr. Romney has been tagged as Etch A Sketchy. Almost all of 2012 will come down to plans and policy, to which path seems likely to get us out of the muck. The American people are in a postheroic presidential period. They just want to hire somebody to come in and fix some essential problems.
Mr. Romney should feel optimistic.
Michael Memoli reports on the Romney camp’s crisis strategy:
Thursday afternoon, Fehrnstrom took to Twitter to make light of the uproar. Linking to a story about how the Etch-A-Sketch parent company, Ohio Art, has seen its stock price tick up, he joked: “Psst, I’ll mention Mr. Potato Head next. Buy Hasbro.” (The company has said it’s happy to have a role “shaking up the national debate.”)
And Romney may soon have the chance to poke some fun at himself about it as well. NBC announced that he’ll be the headline guest Tuesday night on the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Humor can usually be a good deflector, but not when the narrative has already taken hold. Romney chose to initially respond to the remark by, well, not responding to the remark and avoiding reporters’ questions.
More from Doyle McManus at The Los Angeles Times:
We in the mainstream media harbor a dirty little secret: Most of us are rooting for Rick Santorum. It’s nothing personal, although Santorum is a reasonably appealing guy. And it’s not ideological; most of us aren’t yearning for Bible-based social conservatism to become the law of the land. It’s worse than that. We’re just hoping to see the gaudy spectacle of this primary campaign continue as long as possible.
If Santorum can’t win — and sober analysts, weighing the demographics of the remaining states, warn that his prospects are slim — there’s still a chance for the contest to continue. The combination of Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul might still somehow block Mitt Romney, the once-again front-runner, from amassing the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Why? Simple curiosity. The last open convention was in 1976, when Gerald R. Fordbeat Ronald Reagan; many of this year’s campaign reporters weren’t even born then. We media types all have our tickets for Tampa, and the prospect of covering a real live battle there fills us with delight.
Rick Santorum, however, is stumbling on offense, as Richard Oppel at the New York Times points out:
He then added, “If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future” — the last part a clear reference to Mr. Romney.
The Romney campaign wasted no time in trying to turn Mr. Santorum’s words against him.
“I was disappointed to hear that Rick Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican,” Mr. Romney said in a statement e-mailed to reporters by a campaign official.
Finally, Gail Collins for the win:
David: I’m wondering how much Romney will be able to pivot and leave that whole mess behind. Everybody is upset that Romney’s longtime aide Eric Fehrnstrom compared the primary season to an Etch A Sketch — you can shake it and start anew. But that gave me hope that Team Romney is thinking about a re-launch, which is what they need.
Gail: You always did say you preferred Romney because you thought he’d mutate into a totally different person after the primaries. I will now think of it as the David Brooks Etch A Sketch theory.