Santorum pounces on Romney aide's "Etch A Sketch" comment

Etch A Sketch Toy iStockphoto

Etch A Sketch Toy
iStockphoto

Updated 3:28 p.m. Eastern Time

Mitt Romney Communications Director Eric Fehrnstrom was asked on CNN this morning if he was concerned that the primary challenge from Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich "might force the governor to tack so far to the right" that Romney will alienate moderates who would otherwise vote for him if and when he reaches the general election.

"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Fehrnstrom responded. "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

Santorum's campaign pounced on the comment in a news release on Wednesday morning, with Santorum Communications Director Hogan Gidley saying, "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."

"Voters can trust that Rick Santorum will say what he believes, and do what he says," Gidley added. "They may not always agree with Rick Santorum, but they can trust him because they know he is a man of principle. Clearly, the same cannot be said of Governor Romney."

Santorum himself then brought the issue up during a speech in Harvey, Louisiana -- and held up an Etch A Sketch to punctuate his point.

"One of Governor Romney's aides today on television said that Gov Romney, after he wins the primaries, will be like an Etch A Sketch. You take whatever he said and you can shake it up and it will be gone and he's going to draw a whole new picture for the general election," said Santorum. "Well, that should be comforting to all of you who are voting in this primary. That whoever you are going to vote for is going to be a completely new candidate, remove all trace of any kind of marks and be able to draw a new picture. Maybe a picture sort of like when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, not as a conservative. One thing you can say--even my staunchest critics will say--is what you see is what you get."

It's common for presidential candidates from both parties to tack toward the center in a general election in order to win moderates, particularly when they've had to fend off primary challenges from rivals who appeal more directly to their party's base.

But Romney has developed a reputation as "a perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day," in the words of onetime rival Jon Huntsman (who later endorsed Romney), largely because he was more moderate as Massachusetts governor than he has been as a Republican presidential candidate. Fehrnstrom's comments may simple acknowledge a widely-accepted political reality, but they also play directly into Santorum's argument that conservatives can't trust Romney to stand up for their beliefs in the general election.

UPDATE: Both Santorum and Newt Gingrich are using the Etch A Sketch as a prop. Santorum's campaign tweeted out a photo of Santorum using the toy with the caption "@RickSantorum studying up on @MittRomney policy positions." Gingrich brought an Etch A Sketch to a campaign event, where he gave it to a toddler and told him that with the toy he could be a presidential candidate too.

With reporting by CBS News/National Journal reporter Lindsey Boerma.

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