With two major gaffes in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign attributed to the same senior adviser, GOP strategist Bradley Blakeman tells Newsmax, “It might be time for an Etch-A- Sketch moment on the campaign staff.”
And Democratic pollster Doug Schoen agreed in an exclusive interview on Thursday: “The fact that they’ve fumbled the decision on healthcare is emblematic of a crisis in the campaign — requiring exactly what Rupert Murdoch said — new staff, new help, and a vision and a strategy in the absence of one.”
Blakeman and Schoen are among a growing cacophony of political analysts, and influential politicos who are scratching their heads over Monday’s comments by Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who described Obamacare’s individual mandate as a penalty rather than a tax — even after the U.S. Supreme Court seemingly tossed the campaign a softball that couldn’t be missed.
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“Fehrnstrom should absolutely be barred from television and it’s hard to see how his counsel is of great utility to Gov. Romney in the wake of his gaffes,” declared Schoen.
The criticism has overshadowed the all-time one-month GOP fundraising record set by the campaign in June, which pulled in more than $100 million even as some observers speculated that President Obama may be struggling to reach his fundraising expectations.
Fehrnstrom also made headlines and produced late-night comic fodder during Romney’s bitter primary struggle, when he was asked during a CNN appearance whether conservative positions taken during the primary might harm the former Massachusetts governor’s standing with moderates.
“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch,” he said during the interview. “You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”
The comments quickly caught fire in the media and among political opponents, even going viral on the Internet.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, Romney’s main opponents at the time, seized on the comments as further evidence of the governor’s penchant for being a flip-flopper, which has been a persistent criticism from fellow conservatives as well as Democrats.
“You make one mistake, okay. You make another that’s so outrageous — this guy needs to go and you need somebody who’s going to be more with it, and more in tune with not only the message, but where the American people are,” observed Blakeman, a former senior staff member in the last Bush administration, who is a frequent contributor on Fox.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, News Corp chairman Murdoch echoed a similar sentiment. But worse yet, Murdoch’s respected Wall Street Journal published an editorial critical of Romney’s “play it safe” campaign strategy.
“The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it's Mr. Obama's fault,” the editorial lamented. “We're on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that ‘Obama isn't working.’ Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the president's policies aren't working and how Mr. Romney's policies will do better.”
Schoen went even further. “Put directly, the campaign is rudderless, directionless, messageless, lacks a strategy, lacks a plan, and lacks an approach other than making the election a referendum on Obama,” he charged.
The author of, “Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What it Means for 2012 and Beyond,” Schoen said that the GOP standard bearer should have offered a “credible alternative” to President Obama’s policy shift on immigration and has no excuse for not being able to capitalize on last week’s Supreme Court decision on Obamacare.
“When you’re running a campaign for lower taxes and the highest court in the land says that a measure is constitutional because it represents arguably the largest tax increase in American history —to deny that it is a tax makes little or no sense – whoever says it for whatever reason,” according to Schoen, who believes the gaffe is symptomatic of a larger problem.
“A tax is a tax. This is emblematic of a failure of the campaign to recognize they need a low-tax, pro-growth message — a vision for the future, and a strategy that is inclusive,” he said. “They lack everything they need to create a positive contrast to President Obama.”
Blakeman, who like Schoen is a Newsmax contributor, insists that the comments showed poor preparation.
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“Forced errors this late in the campaign are inexcusable. And the fact that you’d be so off message with regard to a decision that you knew was coming from the start of your campaign is beyond explanation,” he said. “How could the campaign be so off message is the question? Whether it’s the Etch-A-Sketch comment, whether it’s a statement by a senior staff person regarding healthcare not being a tax, it leaves people scratching their heads because we’re in a general campaign. The primaries are over.”
Blakeman believes that the campaign may be able to regain its lost momentum by announcing Romney’s pick for a running mate ahead of the GOP convention in August, and doing a better job of showing the American people Romney’s policy advisors.
“You’ve got to be bold to win,” said Blakeman. “We haven’t seen who’s behind Romney’s curtain. Who’s the Kitchen Cabinet? Who are the people that he relies on most for all of these big decisions? All you see is Romney out there with nobody really besides campaign staff.”
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