Eric Fehrnstrom is kind of a big deal. As chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, he’s charted a turbulent but unrelenting course to the GOP nomination. As an adviser to Sen. Scott Brown’s reelection campaign, he’s guided the Massachusetts Republican to prominence and given his candidate an even chance of returning to Washington next January.
But there’s a tension underlying Ferhnstrom’s work. The two candidates, despite their moderate brands, differ sharply on some of the biggest issues facing the Republican party in 2012, from Dodd-Frank to gay marriage—and it’s Fehrnstrom’s job to help explain why they’re both right. Such is the life of political consultants, who, at their most successful, are forced to subvert any core beliefs they might hold in the name of some greater good (or, failing that, a fat paycheck). When Fehrnstrom famously used an Etch A Sketch to describe Romney in March, he may as well have been describing himself.
Here’s a quick guide to the Fehrnstrom two-step:
Subject: The Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform law
- Romney: “I’d like to repeal Dodd Frank, recognizing that some revisions make sense…” According to Romney’s official campaign website: Dodd-Frank represents a “quantum increase in the scale of the regulatory burden on the American economy.”
- Brown: “I worked very hard to make sure that banks didn’t act like casinos with our money. So the bill that [Elizabeth Warren] was apparently working on, I mean was able to work through as a result of [Warren’s] position, you know, I worked on it, I voted on it, I pushed it through.”
Subject: President Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Romney: “President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is perhaps the most powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy in the history of our nation, headed by a powerful and unaccountable bureaucrat with unprecedented authority over the economy. Instead of working with Congress to fix the flaws in this new bureaucracy, the president is declaring that he ‘refuses to take no for an answer’ and circumventing Congress to appoint a new administrator. This action represents Chicago-style politics at its worst and is precisely what then-Sen. Obama claimed would be ‘the wrong thing to do.’ Sadly, instead of focusing on economic growth, he is once again focusing on creating more regulation, more government, and more Washington gridlock.”
- Brown: “I believe he is the right person to lead the agency and help protect consumers from fraud and scams…While I would have strongly preferred that it go through the normal confirmation process, unfortunately the system is completely broken. If we’re going to make progress as a nation, both parties in Washington need to work together to end the procedural gridlock and hyper-partisanship.”
Subject: Funding for Title X family planning services
- Romney: “The test is pretty simple. Is the program so critical, it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis, of course you get rid of Obamacare; that’s the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.
- Brown: “I support family planning and health services for women. Given our severe budget problems, I don’t believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts. However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate.”
- Fehrnstrom (Bonus): “We’re going to have to make some tough decisions about spending. The test that Mitt Romney will apply is: Is this program so worthwhile and valuable that we’ll borrow money from China to [fund] it?”
Subject: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
- Romney: “I believe it should have been kept in place until conflict was over.”
- Brown: “When a soldier answers the call to serve and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight, male or female. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.”
Subject: Gay marriage
- Romney: “That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.”
- Brown: “We’ve moved on. I encourage everyone else to move on.”
Subject: New START treaty
- Romney: “The president’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet. The treaty as submitted to the Senate should not be ratified.”
- Brown: “I believe it’s something that’s important for our country, and I believe that it’s a good move forward to deal with our national security issues.”