The Etch-a-Sketch Gambit

If there’s been a single, enduring pattern in the Republican presidential primaries, it’s that Mitt Romney—or a staff member—can’t help but offend someone after winning an election. To wit, here’s communications director Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN this morning:

HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.

FEHRNSTROM: 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 all of over again.

This is exactly what conservatives fear about the former Massachusetts governor; that he’ll abandon his commitment to conservative rhetoric as soon as he becomes the nominee. And given the degree to which Romney is willing to lie to audiences, this is not an unreasonable fear.

On the other hand, it’s not as if this is a new concern. Conservatives widely believe that the party establishment will betray conservative values to win an election. For them, it explains the failed candidacies of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and the failed presidency of George W. Bush. But now that they’re in the driver’s seat of the Republican Party, they can avoid this obstacle—it’s well within their power to keep Romney from running too far to the center, and distancing himself too much from the persona he’s built over the last five years.

All of this is to say that Fehrnstrom and the Romney campaign are probably kidding themselves if they think they can flop back to the center this fall. Conservatives neither like nor trust Mitt Romney, and they want every guarantee that he stays on their turf in his campaign against President Obama. Conservatives will make their demands and Romney will go along for the ride. After all, in an election where he needs high turnout from the base, what choice does he have?