Political Animal


March 22, 2012 8:44 AM Setting His Own House On Fire

By Ed Kilgore

As someone who wrote Tuesday night that Mitt Romney had essentially, and finally, wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, I find myself, like everyone else watching this peculiar contest, in awe at Team Romney’s consistent ability to step on its victories, with the Eric Fehrnstrom Etch-a-Sketch fiasco being just the latest example. Last night TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro offered a useful summary:

IOWA: While he was still riding high as the declared winner in Iowa, Romney slowed his momentum by telling an audience in New Hampshire, “I enjoy being able to fire people.” The line was taken out of context somewhat — always a hard battle for Romney to fight after he declared taking people out of context to be fair game — but Democrats and his Republican opponents pounced, and Romney was forced to confront the less than marketable aspects of his background as a corporate takeover artist.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Romney’s big win in the Granite State was overshadowed considerably by the fight over Romney’s tax return, which he first said he wouldn’t release, then was incredibly vague about releasing, and then finally released. Democrats had a way to stamp out Romney’s momentum and they used it.
FLORIDA: After getting shellacked in South Carolina, Romney’s win in delegate-rich Florida was supposed to get the storyline back on track and Romney on the express train to the nomination. But the morning after he won, Romney went on CNN and told America, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
“Facepalm,” wrote conservative pundit Michele Malkin.
MICHIGAN In addition to the Ford Field debacle, which gave Democrats plenty of ammo for their argument that Romney’s homestate wasn’t interested in its native son anymore, Romney preempted the momentum he was about to get by winning the closely-contested state by flying down to Florida and talking about all the NASCAR owners he’s friends with while trying to connect with the race fans at the Daytona 500.
ILLINOIS Romney won big, and gave an Obama-focused speech that gained widespread acclaim. In short order, he trotted out an endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and began to make the case in earnest that it’s time for the primaries to end and for the GOP to unite around Romney. Etch A Sketch lit a fire under both his Republican and Democratic opponents that made his inevitability argument — while still very sound on paper — a tougher sell.

If Romney wins in Louisiana Saturday, and makes a mockery of the idea that Rick Santorum came somehow execute a comeback, the odds are very high that Romney or his staff will do something to undermine the primary’s impact no later than Sunday afternoon.

You can say it’s all wind in sails, and that all that matters is the delegate count. But the reality is that everyone’s entirely valid conclusion that this thing’s totally over depends very much on the assumption that Rick Santorum’s campaign can’t survive a difficult stretch of April primaries and arrive at the oasis of May contests in IN, NC, WV, NE, AR, KY and TX. The money will dry up and the opinion-leaders will tell Rick it’s time to go.

That’s still likely, but when all else fails for Mitt’s Romney’s opponents, the front-runner and now his staff can always be counted on in their mercy to come to the rescue, like some perverse fireman you can call who will rush home and make his own house go up in flames.

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.


  • John B. on March 22, 2012 9:03 AM:

    Due to when it happened, the TPM article leaves out Romney's ad lib from later in the day yesterday that it's actually Bush's bailout of the banks that we should be crediting for the economic recovery . . . of course, the Republican base absolutely despises TARP. (And, of course, Bush himself more generally . . . I do wonder how the GOPers will handle the assignation of W's speaking slot at the convention.)

  • rea on March 22, 2012 9:06 AM:

    Well, the point is, Romney has to shake the etch-a-sketch soon and start making himself over as a moderate, or he'll fail in the general election. If he doesn't do this soon, it will be too late. But, the ongoing primary battles are preventing Romney from changing his positions. And, of course, it was the height of folly to announce his intention--now it begins to look like his campaign slogan is, "Vote for me, even if you don't like my public positions, because I'm a liar!"

  • T2 on March 22, 2012 9:07 AM:

    every morning, when I'm still half asleep, I get a JOLT from Political Animal. It occurs when I read a posting and realize that Richard "Rick" Santorum is actually running for the Republican nomination.....and actually winning states primaries. Then I'm set for the rest of the day, satisfied that the Republican Party has no future.

  • DRF on March 22, 2012 9:29 AM:

    What makes the etch-a-sketch comment resonate as much as it does (and will) is because--it's true. It's a colorful version of the Michael Kinsley definition of a gaffe.

  • Steve P on March 22, 2012 9:29 AM:

  • boatboy_srq on March 22, 2012 9:36 AM:

    I don't think we should expect much more from a candidate who reeks of entitlement and is seeking the Presidency because.... well, because he wants it. The only people who seem to really matter to the Romney campaign are the fraction-of-one-percenters that are paying for his campaign: we shouldn't be surprised that he's disinterested in consistently relating to the rest of the populace. Feature, not bug. I'd give real money, however, to learn how he relates to those

    Once again this comes down to Romney heading for the nomination because he's bought it, rather than actually winning over the electorate with a specific vision or set of policy positions. Under those circumstances it doesn't matter so much what he says: his campain cash is doing the important talking.

  • Peter C on March 22, 2012 9:40 AM:

    Romney's problem (and that of his campaign) is that he *says* the things that everyone knows he is thinking. He *doesn't* mind firing people - that's what corporate takeover magnates like Bain DO. He *is* extremely wealthy and pays taxes at a much lower rate than most of the rest of us. His policies *would* help the very wealthy and do nothing but harm to the poor. He *does* know many other rich people and that's his only real connection to NASCAR fans. And, he *does* plan on hitting the 'reset' button and starting the general election campaign with a clean slate. Anyone paying attention knows these things already - we know them, his primary opponents know them, the pundits know them. But the electorate DOESN'T know them; they aren't paying attention. And, while they are willing to award a national figure the benefit of the doubt and disbelieve what his opponents say about him (as part of the rough and tumble of a campaign), THEY WON'T DISBELIEVE IT FROM HIS OWN LIPS.

    At least, I hope they won't. Certainly, he'll have almost all the money in the world to try and make them disbelieve it.

  • DAY on March 22, 2012 9:47 AM:

    "a candidate who reeks of entitlement and is seeking the Presidency because.... well, because he wants it. "-boatboy_srq

    And his behavior on the stump makes this plain as day, every day. Mitt is uncomfortable among the unwashed masses; his nervous chuckle says, "Get me out of here!"

  • internet tough guy on March 22, 2012 9:52 AM:

    Now imagine Mitt and his team with a nuclear arsenal.


  • anon-y-mouse on March 22, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Thumbs up to the The Etch-a-Sketch imagery!!

    Psychologically, this serves to provide a strong visual accompanying voters' many auditory memories of Ro-money's gaffes and flops.
    And, interestingly, Ro-money's prior *pancake* talk created a perfect optic of flipping/flopping/turning--and so very memorable. It's as if it's assured that voters shall have his multi-grain gaffes (pun intended) in their collective memories. I think the candidate realizes this... he's around a long time predictable revising his positions to the public.
    Doesn't seem that personality trait would work well in foreign relations.
    And do voters really want such a luckless president?
    He seems absolutely jinxed.

  • Diane Rodriguez on March 22, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Personally, I love every single idiotic thing Mitt says. Double down and let the ignorance ring forth. I hope he burns down his house and the rest of the neighborhood - metaphorically speaking. Need matches, a lighter? Romney must be kept out of the White House.

    Day - just so you know....I love your pithy wit.

  • T2 on March 22, 2012 10:44 AM:

    DAY is so right. Seeing Etch Romney work a crowd is like watching a robot. He's really stiff, but I'm thinking that sitting around the Country Club with his wealthy buddies he's much looser...just one of the guys. Guys, that is, who happen to be multi-millionaires like him.
    In the general election, I'd love to see Mr. Obama challenge Etch to a one-on-one hoops shoot out.

  • ET on March 22, 2012 10:46 AM:

    I know Catholics haven't been all that supportive of Santorum but I still think that he will win Louisiana. LA is southern and Santorum does better in the south - especially with the evangelicals which LA does have. I also think that the LA version of Catholics may be a better fit for Santorum than the NE version of Catholics.

  • Ken on March 22, 2012 11:03 AM:

    @internet tough guy Now imagine Mitt and his team with a nuclear arsenal.

    My worry isn't that they'll use it, it's that they'll sell it. I mean, the company country has this capital asset just sitting around unused and depreciating, you might as well get liquidate...

  • bluestatedon on March 22, 2012 11:39 AM:

    While Etch-A-Sketch injects additional farce and hilarity into a GOP contest that was already a steady source of material for Stewart and Colbert, Romney is still the heavy odds-on favorite to eventually secure the nomination. The real relevance of Etch-A-Sketch is to the general election, and Obama and the Dems and selected members of the media are going to pound Romney unmercifully with this metaphor.

  • zandru on March 22, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Now that we're getting all psychological, perhaps Romney's habit of torpedoing his own victories is partly a deeply-buried feeling that he really doesn't deserve to be President.

  • toowearyforoutrage on March 22, 2012 3:14 PM:

    like some perverse fireman you can call who will rush home and make his own house go up in flames.

    Fehrnstrom 451?