This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 21, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: We're back with the panel talking about today on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think he 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.
GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people talk about making pledges that are in stone. But the idea that a Romney pledge is on Etch A Sketch, this should remind everyone in the conservative movement why they are very worried about a Romney presidency and about a Romney candidacy. And it really makes you doubt and wonder about his sincerity.
RICK SANTORUM: When the primary is over you're gonna see a very different Mitt Romney. We all knew that. May he at least have the courage to admit what we all knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: So Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are out on the trail with actual Etch A Sketches talking to people in campaign events. This on a day when the Romney campaign was supposed to be touting a big win in Illinois and also a big endorsement. Jeb Bush released this statement, "Primary elections have been held in 34 states. Now is the time for the Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservative and job creation to all voters this fall. I'm endorsing Mitt Romney for our Party's nomination."
But it got so intense, late in day Mitt Romney had to talk to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An organization, a general election campaign, takes on a different profile. The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I am running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee -- or, excuse me, hopefully be a conservative nominee for president. The policies and positions are the same.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: So what about this, Steve? Is this just crazy because we're at this point in the campaign or does this Etch A Sketch scratch an itch for the anti-Mitt Romney voters?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, we are nearing the end of the campaign and Mitt Romney has a commanding lead in the delegate count. Everything looks like it's heading in his direction. But this is one of these gaffes that unlike so many of the fake gaffes that we have seen throughout this process this strikes me as a real gaffe. You can understand what Eric Fehrnstrom was trying to say. All of the stuff in the primaries that's behind us, we're going to now concentrate on President Obama.
The problem is the context of the question. The question was about whether Romney was going to be dragged too far to the right by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. And to answer it that way suggests, yeah, we're perfectly willing to have him change positions again.
And the irony of it is the Romney campaign has been so focused, I would say beyond anything else to allow him to be called a flip-flopper. This was his problem in 2008. They have been attuned to it like nothing else. And here it is once again. And the problem is it reinforces this caricature. That was the way people thought of him. That's a main charge that both Santorum and Newt Gingrich have made against him, and like the poor comment which reinforced the idea that he is wealthy and maybe out of touch --
BAIER: And that was after the Nevada win.
HAYES: Right. This is why it matters and why it stays for a while.
BAIER: In fact, the campaign has done so much to prevent that flip- flopper kind of narrative that, you know, in part it's why many people believe he is holding so firmly on to Romneycare and defending it. He could have easily at the beginning of the process said, you know what, maybe I made a mistake. But he didn't. And so what about this?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE DAILY CALLER: I think you mix toy nostalgia, the 24-hour news cycle, and the internet and you've gone viral. It's easily gimmickized, you can bring Etch A Sketches to events. So...definitely stepped in it. The problem, as Steve's says, the question was about ideology. Had the question not been about ideology there would have been still a problem but not to this extent. It is one sentence, I don't want to blow it up, but it indicates a bit of a pattern, which is that the Romney camp steps on its own victories by making mistakes like this. And I think this one has the image has some cultural penetration. Everybody knows what an Etch A Sketch is. And I think that can be problematic.
BAIER: The Santorum campaign was literally handing out Etch A Sketches to the crowd in the afternoon events.
DAVID DRUCKER, REPORTER, ROLL CALL: No doubt, this is not what the Romney campaign wanted to be talking about today. And clearly the problem they are experiencing is well deserved. That is the wrap on their candidate. And that is just a fact of life.
However, I don't think it rises to the gaffe level that the very poor comment did and some of the other things, one, because the candidate didn't say it. That is always helpful. Number two, I think this is not the kind of thing that can or will really come back to haunt him in a general election the way some of the other thing he is has said can and will.
I think outside of our circle, as much as everybody understands the Etch A Sketch, and I agree with you on that, most voters I don't think are going to get wrapped up in this the way they with other things. Why this is problematic is, as you said, Jeb Bush endorses, he comes off a huge victory. All he needs to be talking about is, basically, I'm the nominee and this is another day where he squanders an opportunity to do that.
BAIER: Although the Democrats desperately wanted to be included. Rick Santorum and Gingrich were obviously on the trail holding up Etch A Sketches and the DNC released this late today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that.
I was a severely conservative Republican governor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Something tells me it's an ad we'll see again.
HAYES: I think this does stay. Remember, President Obama never actually said leading from behind. That was something that one of his staff said anonymously to a New Yorker reporter, and here it is, everybody talks about it all the time.
The problem as illustrated in the DNC ad, Mitt Romney has not, I don't think, run to the right in this primary even though the DNC suggests he has. So the proper answer to question as it was posed, why have you been dragged to the right is, we haven't been dragged to the right. We have run as a relative, conventional Republican candidate. I would say his tax reform proposal, is it terribly bold? It's fine. On none of these issues, with the possible exception of immigration has he been to the far right as the DNC suggests.
HAM: Maybe you can sell it as Etch A Sketch stimulus when the reports comes out later this year?
BAIER: Something tells me sales will be up. That's it for the panel. But stay tuned for recap of a celebration this past weekend.
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