Political Animal


March 22, 2012 11:38 AM Bring Me the Head of Eric Fehrnstrom

By Ed Kilgore

Least surprising news of the day? Veteran conservative columnist Bill McGurn suggests how Mitt Romney can atone for his communications director’s Etch-a-Sketch gaffe:

If Mitt Romney really wants to demonstrate that he’s not simply pandering when he tells us how conservative he is, he needs to fire his campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom….

And here’s McGurn’s “to be sure” graph:

By any objective measure, it’s of course unjust to fire a man for one errant remark. Politics, however, isn’t fair, and neither is the presidency. Mr. Romney’s problem is not his policies or programs; his problem is his credibility: many people just don’t believe he really believes what he is telling us. Firing Mr. Fehrnstrom would be a welcome signal that Mr. Romney is offended by any suggestion, no matter how much it might be later explained away, that he does not really believe what he says — and is ready, willing, and able to erase it away when he thinks he needs to. The worst part is that Mr. Fehrnstrom does not appear to have chosen unfortunate words that distort what he ways trying to say. To the contrary, his problem is that he appears to have inadvertently expressed what he, and by extension the Romney campaign, really does think.

So it would be unjust, and surely Fehrnstrom’s remarks don’t reflect Mitt’s inner-most thoughts, but for that reason, ol’ Eric’s got to go.

This is a very old habit of conservatives who can’t quite control Republican pols, but want to throw their weight around and extract their pound of flesh now and then, just to remind the GOP that they could sabotage the whole operation if they really got mad and decided to talk a walk.

The title of this post is an allusion to the wonderful title of a 1995 Karen Tumulty piece for TIME about conservative demands that presidential candidate and Senate leader Bob Dole fire his chief of staff, Sheila Burke, for various sins against conservative orthodoxy. Dole didn’t succumb to the demands, stubborn cuss that he was. But he got the message, and knew that by refusing to sacrifice Burke, he had implicitly given conservatives a chit for future draughts on his account of credibility with “the base.”

Here, too, a lot of the caterwauling about Fehrnstrom and Etch-a-Sketch is a flare sent up to remind Romney that even though hard-core conservatives can’t really block his nomination (unless, of course, he keeps making mistakes that give the barely-breathing campaign of Rick Santorum a lifeline), they can make his life miserable from now until November. He can pay them now, with a little symbolic blood-letting, but in any event he will pay them later, when he stages his convention, writes his platform, chooses his running-mate, devises his general election message, and—most importantly—when he tries to govern if elected.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Eeyore on March 22, 2012 11:54 AM:

    Should be easy enough.... Romney likes being able to fire people.

  • ET on March 22, 2012 11:54 AM:

    I just don't think firing Fehrnstrom is going to fix the problems caused by the "gaffe" because the impression left by the "gaffe" existed even before Fehrnstrom gave a powerful image.

  • tedb on March 22, 2012 11:57 AM:

    "Firing Mr. Fehrnstrom would be a welcome signal that Mr. Romney is offended by any suggestion, no matter how much it might be later explained away, that he does not really believe what he says..."

    An extra bonus would be that it would demonstrate that he really was telling the truth back in January when he said,"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

  • locopartentis on March 22, 2012 12:05 PM:

    The Santorum led faction of the party will have a lot to say at the convention no matter what happens to Eric Fehrnstrom. The only two candidates who are eligible for nomination (as of now and it won't change)under GOP rule 40(b) are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Hence there will be compromises made in the platform and possibly the VP choice in order to assuage that important demographic (for Republicans, that is) even though Romney should have the nomination sewn up by then.

    It will be interesting to see what the Ron Paul supporters will do during the convention since he will not be able to be nominated. Nobody gives a hoot about Newt.

    GOP Rules 2008 40(b) referring to nominations for President and VP:

    (b) Each candidate for nomination for
    President of the United States and Vice President of the
    United States shall demonstrate the support of a
    plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more
    states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.

  • stormskies on March 22, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Fire the guy to demonstrate what ? That soulless, buffoon Romney is a man of principle ? Right, that will certainly do it then .......... fucking a

  • Sammy on March 22, 2012 12:16 PM:

    Locopartentis, Sarah Palin is planning to sweepinto the repug convention and will the nomination.

  • bluestatedon on March 22, 2012 12:32 PM:

    Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up:


  • rea on March 22, 2012 12:34 PM:

    My god, they want Romney to flipflop on flipflopping.

  • zandru on March 22, 2012 12:41 PM:

    I thought "Bring me the head of ..." was an allusion to "Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia", a Peckinpah movie from the 1970s.

    But, less literarily, I see no reason to fire Mr. Wormstrom over his Etch-a-Sketch remark. Isn't it largely the lefty media that's making a big deal over this? And nobody watches THAT, much less knows where to find it.

    But more importantly - he's right. Post-convention, Mr. Romney could portray himself as a laundry detergent or sugar-frosted flake, and the 92% of the electorate who are not political junkies would accept it.

  • Alan Tomlinson on March 22, 2012 12:46 PM:

    "The title of this post is an allusion...." Which was itself an allusion to the film
    "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia"


    Alan Tomlinson

  • mellowjohn on March 22, 2012 12:51 PM:

    @ sammy:
    perhaps they could exhume leni riefenstahl and do a re-make of "triuph of the will."

    (opps. godwin alert!)

  • Susan Runholt on March 22, 2012 12:59 PM:

    I think the allusion goes back farther than that, folks. Before there was a Tumulty article, before there was a film, there was Salome. "Bring me the head of John the Baptist." Mark 6:24.

    And I'm a Unitarian.

  • 2Manchu on March 22, 2012 1:40 PM:


  • t on March 22, 2012 2:03 PM:

    The same Eric that is making Romney into a far right zealot is also making Scott BROWN of Mass into a far left repub to get re-elected in a leftish state, they just shape themselves into a mould and neither have anything in their empty heads.

  • emjayay on March 22, 2012 2:41 PM:

    The "etch-a-sketch" remark was essentially saying that Romney has no actual convictions and is willing to portray himself in any way that will work for the particular situation. In other words, no there there, just as Tennessee Williams might have put it, a "tissue of lies." This was of course already obvious.

    But Mitt explained what the comment actually meant: "Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile. The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same." So, it wasn't about convictions, but only the organizational chart that will change.

    Accused of transparently lying, Mitt simply told a bigger more transparent lie. That should fix it.