Romney’s “Etch a Sketch” Guy Has Helped Others Change Their Positions

How you look at things.
March 22 2012 2:56 PM

Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch a Sketch

Mitt Romney’s adviser has been helping candidates erase inconvenient positions for a long time.

(Continued from Page 1)

Four months later, Romney messed up Fehrnstrom’s picture again. Approaching his decision to run for president, Romney declared himself pro-life and changed his position on Roe. Fehrnstrom had to reach for his Etch a Sketch once more. "The governor freely admits that he has changed his position," Fehrnstrom told the Deseret News in February 2007, when Romney finally announced his candidacy. "He makes no apologies for changing his mind. He admits he had it wrong before and now he is firmly pro-life."

But Fehrnstrom still maintained that Romney hadn’t betrayed the commitments he made to pro-choice activists and voters in 2002. And there, Fehrnstrom had a problem. In March 2007, the Los Angeles Times published an account from Massachusetts pro-choice activists who had met with Romney in 2002 when he was seeking their endorsement in his race for governor. According to their notes, Romney had said that he opposed overturning Roe, that he would preserve abortion rights, that he would be a helpful voice for moderation in the national GOP, and that the judges he appointed would be largely pro-choice. The activists had written down direct quotes from Romney, such as “I'm a strong believer in stating your position and not wavering,” and "I want to be really careful about not changing my position.”

When the Times asked Fehrnstrom for comment, he whipped out his Etch a Sketch:

"People's memories change with time, and change depending on which way the political winds are blowing," said Eric Fehrnstrom, an advisor to Romney … Fehrnstrom, who attended the NARAL meeting … said he did not remember any discussion of judges or Romney saying he would moderate the GOP position on abortion, despite those topics appearing in the NARAL officers' notes.

Three months later, as Romney prepared to speak at the National Right to Life Convention, Fehrnstrom explained Romney’s change of heart to the Associated Press:

Attending the convention will give Romney a chance to educate activists about the former governor's views, resulting from a conversion in late 2004 while studying legislation on embryonic cloning, Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom said. "Governor Romney follows a long line of converts—George Herbert Walker Bush, Henry Hyde and Ronald Reagan to name a few.”


Fehrnstrom’s account of Romney’s conversion, combined with Romney’s own accounts of it, bore an uncanny resemblance to Fehrnstrom’s previous story about Joe Malone’s conversion. Romney, like Malone, had been secretly troubled for some time, though he hadn’t shown it. Romney, like Malone, had been disturbed by the rhetoric of those who espoused his former position—in Romney’s case, a stem-cell researcher who suggested in 2004 that there was no moral problem with destroying early embryos. Romney, like Malone, was one of many people who had changed their views on abortion over time. Everything in the story was the same. Only two things were different: the political environment (Malone faced a pro-choice electorate in Massachusetts, while Romney faced a pro-life electorate in the Republican presidential primaries) and the direction in which the candidate changed his position.

When Malone endorsed Romney’s presidential rival, Rudy Giuliani, in October 2007, Fehrnstrom even had the cheek to dismiss his former client as a predictable pro-choicer: “We all like and respect Joe Malone and Paul Cellucci, but they are both pro-choice and no one should be surprised that they have endorsed Giuliani, who is also pro-choice.”

To be fair, Fehrnstrom doesn’t always have to revise Romney’s history. That’s because Romney does it for him. Romney has been rewriting his record all along. Just this past Sunday, Romney repeated his favorite revisionist tale: “I was a pro-life governor. I came down on the side of life on every issue that was brought to my desk.”

So when Fehrnstrom says the fall campaign is “almost like an Etch a Sketch—you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again,” he isn’t just talking about campaign mechanics. He’s speaking from years of experience with candidates who have changed their positions, always sincerely, though in opposite directions. And in Romney’s case, he’s talking about a candidate with a long history of changing not just his position, but his story.