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Romney advisor says his conservatism can be erased

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

Ever since he launched his first bid for the presidency over five years ago, critics have argued that Mitt Romney's conservative positions aren't sincere, and that he would start to abandon them once he was no longer trying to appeal to the Republican primary electorate. I just never expected one of his chief campaign staffers to openly admit it. Yet feeling cocky after Mitt Romney's strong victory in Illinois, top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom did just that.

Here's the stunning exchange on CNN (via Greg Sargent):

HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack 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 restart all over again.

Video, clipped by ThinkProgress, here.

This is an incredible admission and a window into the way Romney views politics. Romney ran two races in Massachusetts as a moderate and even a self-described "progressive," before changing his positions in the run up to his first campaign for president. Just last month, he described himself as "severely conservative" at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But as Fehrnstrom statement suggests, Romney's appeals to the right are simply a matter of positioning rather than principle, something that can easily be changed once the target audience changes.

If Romney's fiercest critics wanted to come up with a way to describe Romney's approach to politics, I don't think they could have come up with a better analogy than Etch A Sketch. The fact that it's coming from one of Romney's long-time aides is stunning. An even scarier thought for conservatives: if the Romney campaign is willing to take them for granted before even clinching the nomination, imagine how quickly Romney would abandon conservatives if he ever made it to the White House.

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Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner