One of Mitt Romney’s communications advisors admitted in an awkward manner that his candidate will veer towards a more centrist position, once the primaries are over and the actual campaign against President Obama has begun. His use of the Etch A Sketch image to describe such a movement gave both Rick Santorium and Newt Gingrich a much needed respite from their devastating losses in Illinois. In so doing, Romney’s advisor played into the Santorum-Newt narrative of the lack of authenticity of candidate Romney, and the need for the party to select a true conservative to lead the charge against Obama in the fall.
Quite frankly, this verbal lapse will not be long lasting in terms of news cycles. Most veteran observers would agree that once the primary season is over, playing to the party base must give way to appealing to independents. Romney’s people are aware of the damage the primaries have done to their candidate. His unfavorables are up, he has veered more to the right that he wanted, and some important constituencies such as women and Hispanics have begun to shift support to Obama. What seemed to be a winnable election has turned into a brand destroying exercise for the Republican party. Not a good turn of events for the eventual GOP nominee this late in the election cycle year. So, it is to be expected that Romney, once he has the nomination sewed up, will begin to broaden his appeal.
The problem with the Etch A Sketch metaphor is that it reinforces the absence of core conservative convictions with Romney. He is, by far, the best candidate in the GOP field, yet he cannot close the deal. His religion, his flip flopping, his pandering, and his inability to define himself have essentially turned what should have been an easy and earlier victory into a long drawn out contest with his eventual victory only coming in late spring. He is now facing an emboldened opposition, who will try to make sure the Republican platform in the Tampa convention is definitively more to the right.
The more the campaign progresses, the more it seems error-prone. Romney seems off his game when he is not scripted. His handlers avoid mainstream media interviews and do only Fox News. His debate performance has not really been tested. Rick Perry and Herman Cain are not Barack Obama. Both Santorum and Gingrich are too polarizing for a general election anyway, and too often inconsistent on the campaign trail for Romney to claim he has been tested and has become a better candidate. Even the GOP admits Obama became a better candidate in 2008 because of Hillary Clinton.
Romney is steadily building his lead and the endorsements by Jeb Bush and Senator Jim DeMint make it even more evident that the Stop Romney movement is running out of steam. Both are correct in their warning of permanent damage if this contest continues without a clear winner to June, or the Tampa convention. The question is: has this primary season already inflicted permanent damage to the GOP cause and Romney, or is it just temporary as in Etch A Sketch and be erased?