Thursday, March 22, 2012

Etch-A-Sketch Gate

I won Illinois: First I was ...

But Then I Was All ...
 The Day In Etch-A-Sketch: How The Political Machine Overran Romney
Romney wins Illinois--probably the best blow he's landed to-date on Santorum's chances, effectively closing out any chance for either a Gingrich comeback or a momentum-building Santorum-surge--and the day after? A senior staffer says this:
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 of over again.
The result has been instant and consistent (the article is excellent--it looks at how the Etch-A-Sketch gaffe has been pounced on by, well, everyone):
And they say bipartisanship is dead.
The quote, captured by liberal blog ThinkProgress, didn’t spread so much as it was shoved down the media’s throat with one of the most concentrated efforts by professional politicos this cycle. Within hours, it seemed every political flack in the country not aligned with Romney’s campaign had their own video, one-off website or stunt to hammer the message home.
Gingrich appeared with one--he handed it to a kid in the audience and said "Now you can run for president." Santorum's people handed out small etch-a-sketches at a Romney rally Politico has "9 Fun Facts About Etch-A-Sketchs". And the rest of the conservative punditry? They're saying: Yeah, we already knew this--but every blog, save one (all that I read, anyway. Exception: PowerLine), has covered it:
In case you missed it this morning, here again is the Kinsleyan gaffe of the year thus far — a comment so stupidly vivid and vividly stupid given Romney’s vulnerabilities that it ends up being more effective than 99 percent of the attacks Santorum and Gingrich have lobbed at Mitt.
What Does It Mean?
Romney's attempt to spin is that what the guy meant was that after the primary the whole administrative mechanism will change--how he runs--not what he runs on will change. Clearly, from the context of the question, that is weapons-grade bullshit. But what do you expect him to say? "Yeah, I'm gonna run to the center--like you knew I would"?

A lot of the commentary aligns with the "This is news!? We've been saying this all campaign!!" Of course other people saying it and a top Romney staffer saying it are two very different things.

There are a few more notes.

  1. It's funny. The Etch-a-Sketch imagery is exploitable and humorous. As Alinsky's Rules for Radicals tells us (even as we are constantly reminded that no rock-ribbed GOP candidate would stoop to using them):  Rule 5: Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. (every GOP candidate but maybe Ron Paul is mocking Romney for this at setting 11).
  2. The timing couldn't be worse. Now instead of talking about Romney's newly re-established inevitability, everyone is talking about how the GOP is going to inevitably nominate an Etch-a-Sketch. That's not momentum building.
  3.  Campaigns can be "lost" on a turn of a phrase. It takes more than a really bad phrase--it has to have a sort of lock-and-key dynamic where the phrase is uttered at the right (or wrong) time and has a payload above "dumb" and into "ZOMG, HE SAID WHAT?" A case in point would be a guy named George Romney having said that Vietnam was due to 'brainwashing'--a comment that killed his quest for the GOP nomination. I mean--I mean--I'm just picking a historical precedent at random here. Could've been anyone, really. I'm sure a lot of campaigns have gone down on a single phrase. This one just comes to mind for some reason. Just spit-balling here, really. Oy.
What Do I Think?
The question for Etch-a-Sketch gate is how long does it last? In the HBO drama Game Change they note that most news stories have a 48 hour life-span. Oh, sure, some things last longer, trickling out--but the question is: does this gain momentum (something Romney, himself, has not been able to do)?

The other issue is around the general election itself. We know he's going to try to pivot--everyone does. Romney, much less so than, say, Santorum, doesn't have far to go. He has avoided the more toxic rhetoric explicitly in order to keep him centered for the general. What this does, however, is throw a lot of light on that maneuver.

YouTube was created in 2005. Facebook launched in 2004. Twitter launched in 2006. The first election to see these was Obama-McCain and while the technology was in or nearly in it's current form, I would suspect that over the past 3 years these technologies have matured. Twitter had 400,000 tweets in the first quarter of 2007. In 2010 that was 100 million


Here is a graph of Facebook's growth over the period of the 2008 election and immediately after:

Here is a similar growth for YouTube:

Simply put, we have never seen an election with as much access to video and as many vectors for viral data as 2012 will be. More people than ever--in more demographics--are using these tools. This will make changing the narrative far, far more difficult to manage than it was in 2008. It will place large portions of the message in the hands of the 99% instead of the 1%. 

The Etch-a-Sketch thing is unlikely to be the torpedo that sinks Romney--but it might be the framing device that Team Obama tries to use when he wants to pivot. As such, well--that could leave a mark.


  1. It’s like the GOP primary is actually a contest where the winner is the person who most embodies someone of whom you would say, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

  2. The stock price for Ohio Art Co.,the maker of the Etch A Sketch, has tripled and sales of the toy have boomed.

    Romney *is* good for the economy!


    . . . . . .

    Romney can also expect fresh re-griefing next week.

    On account of the fact that they were off this week, Stewart and Colbert haven’t thrown in their two cents yet. Come Monday, The Daily Colbert will have had the better part of a week to hone their jibes to vorpal keenness.

    This has got to be one of the worst own-goals in political memory.