Has Mitt Romney Successfully Etch-A-Sketched Yet?

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Three months after Mitt Romney's aide Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters that the general election campaign would be like an Etch-A-Sketch, in which Romney would shake off all the right-wing positions that make non-Tea Partiers cringe that he had to take during the Republican primary, it's worth asking: has he pulled it off?

The Etch-A-Sketch comment was considered a gaffe at the time and pounced on by the Obama campaign, but no one questioned the underlying strategy. It was a the embodiment of a Kinsley gaffe: what Republican primary voters — especially the Republican primary voters of 2012 — want in a candidate is not what the swing voters who will decide the general election want in a candidate. For the most part, Romney, who eschewed much of the sideshows of the primary (he never fanned the flames of birtherism, for instance) has demonstrated the same workmanlike discipline as a presumptive nominee, staying on message about the ruins of the American economy. But the rest of the Republican Party has not. You can see the conflict in House Republicans' decision to schedule the vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for Thursday, guaranteeing that the Supreme Court's ruling on Obamacare will overshadow it, thus ensuring that on the day the vote would get the most news coverage, all but the most right-wing of blogs will be paying attention to something else.

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Even when talking about health care, Romney does his best to stay on an economic message. In presenting both arguments he'll make Thursday -- depending on how the Supreme Court rules -- Romney portrayed Obama as too distracted by health care to fix the economy. You also see it in Romney's refusal to say whether he supports President Obama's executive order stopping the deportation of some young immigrants, and his not saying whether he supports the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration law. Sometimes this message discipline has comical results. But he's gone out of his way to avoid the pet issues that get cheers at CPAC. His pitch to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Thursday was based on economics, not immigration law. Romney's staff ended a conference call when reporters started asking questions that weren't "on topic." His press secretary issued a statement on the Fast and Furious investigation condemning the president for a lack of transparency without getting into the details, probably because it was too hard to shoehorn in a call for more jobs.

House Republicans have not shown the same discipline. The Fast and Furious details are, as House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa suggested on ABC News Sunday, that the Obama administration might have intentionally designed Fast and Furious to fail -- even at the cost of one person's life -- so that it could push gun control laws. Instead of government incompetence of the highest order, certain locales of Republican American see conspiracy. Issa might think the issue is election year gold, but House Speaker John Boehner does not. Boehner admitted so on Laura Ingraham's radio show last week, saying of the contempt vote, "politically this may not be the smartest thing to do…" Boehner was reportedly skeptical about the Holder vote, taking more than a year of meetings to win over. Nevertheless, it seems he couldn't convince his colleagues to give it up. Politico reports that Boehner had to do it after so many members of Congress insisted they had no way out of the issue but to vote on it. Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Republican leaders, "'Gentlemen, if you have another idea, let us know. But there has to be resolution. We cant let this go into the wind.'"

Some reporters have speculated that Mitt Romney is too focused on the economy. But several polls have showed that the economy is his best option:

  • Earlier this year, when contraception was a big issue in the news -- and House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa held his infamous all-male birth control panel -- Obama enjoyed a wider gender gap than he does now that the issue is off front pages.
  • The Associated Press's June 21 poll found of the 40 percent of adults who say they're worse off now than they were four years ago, 60 percent say they're voting for Romney.
  • June 7 Fox News poll found that Romney beat Obama on cutting spending by 20 points, on creating jobs and improving the economy by 7 points, and on taxes by 4 points. But Obama was winning on education by 18 points, terrorism by 13 points, foreign policy by 11 points, health care by 3 points. Even on the values voter-sounding category "strengthening families," Obama was ahead by 4 points.

Romney can't even make his case based on personality, as Pew's poll found:

Will Romney be able to convince House Republicans to just talk about the economy? It seems unlikely. They've already announced some choreographed fights over Obamacare and auditing the Federal Reserve this summer. There's no sign they're taking Romney's advice that the Republican Party's most likely path to the White House is to stop acting like the Republican Party of the last three years.

Illustration by Mario Piperni via Flickr.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.