WASHINGTON -- It's hardly a secret that presidential candidates tack toward their base over the course of a primary and shift toward moderation once that primary is over. What's rare is when a campaign admits as much publicly.
In an appearance on CNN Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney's top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom made this Kinsley gaffe, saying that the positions taken by the former Massachusetts governor during the GOP primary campaign were as erasable as a drawing on an Etch a Sketch.
From the transcript:
JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Good morning, sir. It's fair to say that John McCain was considerably a more moderate candidate than the ones that Governor Romney faces now. Is there a concern that the pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to attach 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 we start all over again.
But I will say, if you look at the exit polling data in Illinois, you'll see that Mitt Romney is broadly acceptable to most of the factions in the party. You have to do that in order to become a major party nominee. He's winning conservatives. He's winning Tea Party voters. He's winning men, women, winning Catholics and Protestants.
There is a growing recognition within the Republican Party that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. And there’s two reasons for that. The first is, people see in him the capacity of someone who can lead on the economy. Secondly, they see someone who can defeat Barack Obama.
The analogy here is unfortunate, conjuring up the image of a candidate shaking and re-drawing until he creates a picture that appeals to voters, rather than deftly evolving towards new positions and rhetoric. And for Romney -- who has already shifted his positions during the course of his career to accommodate the different audiences he is wooing -- the comment is even more problematic. The Republican primary isn't over. And if former Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign has its wits about it, it will help make sure that this comment reverberates in the days to come.
But it's also worth acknowledging that almost all presidential candidates try and perform this evolutionary act during the switch from a primary to a general election. As then-Sen. Barack Obama was railing against NAFTA while running against Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2008, his top economic adviser Austan Goolsbee was assuring Canadians that his bluster was just that.
The Santorum campaign wasted no time jumping on the comment with a scathing response.
"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 spokesperson Hogan Gidley in a statement.
The Romney campaign has also sought to downplay the significance of the soundbite.
"As we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes," Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said in a statement. "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."