Yesterday was supposed to be a great day for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. It had just cruised to an easy, double-digit win in the Illinois primary; Jeb Bush had announced his endorsement; and even FreedomWorks said it would stop fighting against a Romney nomination.
As became obvious rather quickly, Eric Fehrnstrom's "Etch A Sketch" line derailed the day and put Team Romney on the defensive.
Towards the end of the afternoon, at a campaign event in Maryland, the former governor himself initially got a little testy with reporters asking about the Fehrnstrom quote, before finally delivering a brief response about the dominant political story of the day.
For those who can't watch clips on line, Romney did his best to spin the story.
"When the campaign moves to becoming a general election campaign, the nature of the campaign itself, in terms of staff, funding, the states we go to, will be different than today, obviously. It's a much larger campaign, fund-raising numbers are very different. We now work with the Republican National Committee instead of apart from any committee of that nature, so organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile."
"The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I'm running as a conservative Republican; I was a conservative Republican governor; I'll be running as a conservative Republican nominee -- or, excuse me, at that point, hopefully, nominee for president. The policies and positions are the same."
And with that, he walked away, wrapping up his one-question press availability.
The problem with Romney's response, of course, is that there's a disconnect between his spin about organization and what Fehrnstrom actually said. Remember, the question Fehrnstrom was asked entirely straightforward: "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?"
This wasn't about "staff," "fundraising," and a new "organizational profile." This was about message and ideology -- and Romney's communications director said the candidate would simply "restart all of over again."
The former governor's spin didn't make any sense given the unambiguous exchange from the morning. It's probably the best spin the campaign could put together, but it wasn't the least bit persuasive, and clearly wasn't responsive to the mess Fehrnstrom created.
The question, however, is whether it's too late in the GOP nominating process to make a difference. For what it's worth, Rush Limbaugh told his audience he's not sure whether the "Etch A Sketch" line was a mistake or campaign strategy intended to send the message, "Don't worry, we'll do the right things to get the moderates."
Either way, this seems unlikely to go away anytime soon.