After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.
The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:
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 over again.
While it is true that any candidate will sound a bit different in a general election than in a primary, that’s exactly the sort of statement that reminds conservatives of Romney’s record of flip-flopping and why they don’t trust him. He is the last candidate whose staffers should be talking about fall resets. Republicans would like to believe that the Romney who spoke last night after his win about the imperative of economic freedom being the driving force of his campaign was the real candidate. Fehrstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment is likely to be catnip for Rick Santorum’s campaign and help ensure that, no matter what follows, Romney will get spanked in Louisiana.
That makes it more than just an ordinary gaffe. If Romney wants to convince conservatives he means it, he’ll have to start by suspending Fehrnstrom. In the meantime, he’ll hope that Jeb Bush’s belated endorsement will take some of the sting out of what may be a bad news cycle for him.