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GOP establishment uniting to back Romney

By KASIE HUNT
March 22, 2012

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. (REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

The Republican establishment started to coalesce around Mitt Romney in earnest on Wednesday, with Jeb Bush and other leading Republicans pressuring Rick Santorum to leave the race after a thumping in the Illinois primary.

But, on what should have been a triumphant day, Romney found himself having to defend his conservative credentials anew after one of his own top advisers, Eric Fehrnstrom, remarked that “everything changes” for the fall campaign. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch,” he said. “You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

The remark fueled criticism that Romney molds his principles to fit with political goals. Democrats pounced, and by day’s end his GOP opponents were waving the draw, shake and erase toys at campaign events in Louisiana.

“The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same,” the former Massachusetts governor said in Arbutus, Md., as Republicans and Democrats alike mocked him. “I’m running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee — hopefully, nominee at that point. The policies and the positions are the same.”

It all nearly overshadowed the endorsement from Bush, the son of one president and the brother of another. He had stayed out of the race for months, and some party elders publicly had urged him to become a candidate as Romney struggled to close the deal with the conservative base of the party.

Bush refused, and on Wednesday he made his preference in the race known after Romney’s double-digit Illinois victory.

“Now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Gov. Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall,” Bush said in a written statement. He congratulated the other Republican candidates “for a hard-fought, thoughtful debate and primary season.”

His backing comes amid fresh signs that big GOP donors and other party figures will follow Bush’s lead after sitting on the sidelines for much of the primary season. Romney is on pace to win the nomination in June. He has 563 delegates in the overall count maintained by The Associated Press, out of 1,144 needed to win the party nod. Santorum has 263 delegates, Newt Gingrich 135 and Ron Paul 50.

Hours after Bush weighed in, Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and a longtime Romney supporter, suggested that Santorum must decide soon whether to stay in or surrender his bid for the nomination.

“Rick, I think, he’s got a real problem,” Dole, who became the GOP nominee in 1996 on his third try, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “It’s getting close to the point where he’s got to take a hard look at it.”

At the same time, campaign finance reports released Tuesday showed that big donors to a GOP political organization founded by political strategist Karl Rove have boosted their financial support for Romney in recent weeks.

Bush’s support came as a surprise to the Romney campaign. The former Florida governor personally contacted Romney Wednesday morning to say he planned to make the endorsement.

Romney made one quick public appearance in Maryland on Wednesday ahead of the April 3 primary there. He planned to spend much of Thursday personally courting members of Congress and other officials in Washington.

But the Etch A Sketch remark threatened to dog him.

It happened early Wednesday on CNN when Fehrnstrom was asked if the extended primary fight “might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.”

Fehrnstrom responded: “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 we start all over again.” The aide didn’t back away from the comment when asked to clarify it. He said only that the general election is “a different race, with different candidates, and the main issue now becomes” exclusively President Barack Obama.

It didn’t take long for the Democratic National Committee and Romney’s Republican rivals to seize on the remark.

In Louisiana, Santorum brandished an Etch A Sketch and told voters he is a candidate who stands “firmly on the rocks of freedom, not on the sands of an Etch A Sketch toy.”

Gingrich stood on stage elsewhere in the state and explained to his audience just what the toys were. “Gov. Romney’s staff, they don’t even have the decency to wait until they get the nomination to explain to us how they’ll sell us out,” he said. “I think having an Etch A Sketch as your campaign model raises every doubt about where we’re going.”

Louisiana holds its primary Saturday. Santorum is favored in the state, though Romney’s allies are airing TV ads there even though the South has proven less hospitable to Romney.

Beyond Saturday, polls show Romney has the advantage heading toward Maryland’s April 3 primary.

For his part, Obama on Wednesday headed to Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma on a trip aimed at answering critics of his energy policies, sure to be a key issue in the fall campaign. His first stop was a plant in Nevada that uses solar panels to power homes, part of an effort to highlight his programs to expand renewable energy sources.

The president’s GOP critics poked back at Obama before Air Force One even took off.

Gingrich issued a statement saying Obama was answering a real-world problem with a “solution that is totally disconnected from the practical realities of the world and has little chance of success.” Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of a Republican super PAC, launched an ad on TV stations in the areas on Obama’s itinerary and on national cable channels faulting the president for “bad energy policies” that are driving up gasoline prices.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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4 Responses to GOP establishment uniting to back Romney

  1. Sandy Price

    March 22, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I think a return to reason, if possible, by any candidate to get the hell off the social issues and fulfill the promises made to the American people in general and seniors in particular would be the best thing for Gov. Romney. We have paid into the S.S. system for years and paid also into Medicare through the S.S. system.

    Without the string pullers moving Romney one way and then the other he might have saved the GOP from disaster losing all divisions of Government. Romney wanted to be President to the point of changing his own agenda to fit into the massive destruction of the religious right.

    Americans do not want a puppet in the White House again. It seems that President George W. Bush was controlled by his handlers and it took us into a deadly war. Romney does not deserve to win unless he can come clean and give us what is in his head and heart about American values.

    I hope all Americans have learned the truth about the Republican Party. Voting GOP is voting for a Theocracy. This does not mean that all Americans will live in freedom; but forced to believe in God. Again the interpretation of the Constitution will bring on civil wars at home and religious wars abroad. Apparently nothing was learned from the slaughter of millions of infidels during the inquisitions.

  2. griff

    March 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Oh boy! Thank goodness for the Republican Establishment. Where oh where would we be without the Republican Establishment? Or the Democrat Establishment? Or the REAL Establishment?

    Free? Prosperous? Peaceful?

    Nah…then we wouldn’t need so many government officials eking out our substance.

  3. Lillibet Hunt

    March 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    “Sarah, if the American people had ever known the truth about what we Bushes have done to this nation, we would be chased down in the streets and lynched.”
    George Bush Senior speaking in an interview with Sarah McClendon in December 1992

    Ah, intersection of the political establishment, the nearest thing we have to a political royal family.

    These thoughts inevitably collide with the rumblings around the Internet Tubes that some might want Jeb Bush to play usurper and unseat whoever the primary voters have selected…and the brain can be in great danger of actually exploding.

    Around Chicago, Romney was announced on the web pages of WGN news as the winner on Monday night. That would be around 8 hours before the polls opened. They got it pretty close to spot on, too.

    Check it out: http://sgtreport.com/2012/03/breaking-news-illinois-gop-primary-results-posted-24-hours-early/#comment-15045

    Who’s running this system? The mind boggles.

    • Danny Adams

      March 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      Yeah, I saw that. Yeesh. And here I thought nobody would top Fox News declaring Romney the winner of the Virginia primary when only 2% of the vote was counted.