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Etch A Sketch comment could skewer Romney

Posted: March 27, 2012 10:40 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.

With his so-called “Etch A Sketch” quip, Mitt Romney’s aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, did a lot more to help the makers of the popular kids’ toy than his actual boss.

Asked about the contrasts of the primary race and the general election, the Republican consultant said, “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”  

That’s not something you want to hear from a campaign that’s already been labeled as wishy-washy.

Fehrnstrom was trying to give a concise description of the differences between the two campaigns, but it seems now that he was too concise. 

Moments after the remark hit the air waves, Ohio Arts, maker of the Etch A Sketch, actually saw a major boost in sales.

But it also opened the door for easy attacks on the Republican presidential frontrunner.

The Democratic Party sent out, as the New York Times put it, “snarky” emails about the gaffe. Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum actually trotted out the toys at campaign events. The latter even commented that the country may be better off with President Obama over an “Etch A Sketch candidate.”

The blunder may go down in the recent history of easy-to-remember campaign mistakes, even though the quote is attributable to a Romney aide, not the actual candidate.

For example, there’s the Dan Quayle misspelling of potato at a New Jersey elementary school during a campaign stop in 1992. The then-vice president went out of his way to alter a student’s correct spelling of “potato” to “potatoe” during a school spelling bee. It was obvious, at least in the minds of many voters and also late night talk show hosts, that Quayle wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. 

“Tonight Show” host Jay Leno wisecracked at the time that Quayle “taught kids a valuable lesson: if you don’t study, you could end up vice president.”

Then there’s the Michael Dukakis “tank photo-op” where the Democratic presidential hopeful hopped in an M1 tank wearing an ill-fitting helmet and displaying a goofy grin.

The picture easily helped his Republican opponent paint him as out of touch and soft on defense. 

Perhaps the most comparable line for Romney is John Kerry’s “I voted for it, before I voted against it.”

The candidate was responding to a question about his vote against an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was trying to explain that he voted for an earlier version of the bill before opposing its final passage, but it allowed his opponent, George W. Bush, to portray him as a flip-flopper.

Unfortunately for Romney supporters, the former Massachusetts governor has already been labeled as the candidate with no convictions.

And Fehrnstrom’s comments certainly didn’t help.

In actuality, Fehrnstrom was speaking the truth, not only for his candidate, but for every presidential candidate.

There is always a general shift in tone for a general election campaign. The slate is wiped relatively clean and the candidates reposition their attacks.

In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary season, for instance, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were largely trying to separate themselves from one another, or more accurately, trying to “out-Democrat” one another.

After Obama won the nomination, he refocused his aim on President Bush.

The same will ring true for 2012. The Republicans have been going after each other, but the nominee will re-aim the target on President Obama once the general election campaign starts.

But after the Etch A Sketch comment, Romney better hope that he’s still the one doing the aiming.

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