Following three primary victories Tuesday night, you could almost see Mitt Romney’s fingers approach the now-proverbial “Etch-a-Sketch” — no doubt aching to shake up his campaign and erase the unattractive picture still left from a GOP primary race that has dragged on, and dragged him to the right.

Romney’s victory speech was still very Tea Party-friendly. There was plenty of overwrought rhetoric about how President Obama, who differs with Republicans on the size of government by a few percentage points of GDP, actually favors a “government-centered society.” But Romney was careful to qualify his assertions about the power of the free market with admissions that there are some instances in which faith in the unfettered market is an inadequate solution to national problems.

“I’m not naive enough to believe that free enterprise is the solution to all of our problems. But nor am I naive enough to doubt that it’s one of the greatest forces for good that this world has ever known.”


“We of course understand that in a free market regulations are necessary and critical, but they need to be continuously updated, streamlined, modernized.”

Sounds...reasonable. The most dubious assertion in those lines is that, emerging from the particularly nuance-free rhetoric of this GOP primary, “of course” his audience should assume he believes federal regulation is “necessary” and “critical.” His last primary-night speech was preoccupied with how regulations are “job-killing.” Certainly the right-wing Jacobins who have exerted such influence on GOP primaries in 2010 and 2012 won’t be at ease with the Republican standard bearer going out of his way to describe government rules with moderation.

It is — and here an “of course” is well-deserved — hard to watch Etch-a-Sketch Romney and not think about his long record of pandering to those Jacobins in terms much more disconcerting than those he used Tuesday. There those clips in which Romney insists that he is “severely conservative,” those in which he positions himself right of Rick Perry on immigration, those in which he claims to be enthused about the radical restructuring of the federal government that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) calls a budget, or those in which he obfuscates on climate change. Even the more vigorous shaking of the Etch-a-Sketch that we are bound to see from Romney won’t prevent Obama from replaying all of that film over and over again between now and November.

This primary has been just awful for the presumptive GOP nominee.