That was in no way the only instance of what Romney called "pranks" and for which he gave one of those patented sorry-if-anybody-got-offended nopologies after the story grew legs Thursday. Unlike those days half a century ago, however, Romney has to farm out his bullying now.
He's chosen well in Eric Fehrnstrom, a trusted aide without an official title who has been on Romney's team since he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. Fehrnstrom authored what is arguably the chief faux pas of the campaign so far, the "Etch-a-Sketch" remark made after the Illinois primary. Fehrnstrom is at the top of the campaign's high command. He is also Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown's top strategist.
A former reporter for the right-wing Boston Herald, he knows how to bully and he's not shy about it:
"The Herald was like the schoolyard bully," Howie Carr, the legendary Boston brawler who was the paper's top columnist and animating spirit, told me. "We were all about finding people and kicking them when they were down. And then we'd laugh about it." [...]Ducks, indeed. Carr mentored Fehrnstrom in his first days in the 1980s as a political reporter. Carr was also the author of a May 2 column filled with racist slurs attacking Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat who is challenging Scott Brown for his Senate seat. Brown-Fehrnstrom-Carr. Coincidence? Of course.
Fehrnstrom saved his cheap shots for smaller-time Massachusetts pols. When a political activist and gadfly named Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the fact that she was transgender was an open secret in Boston political circles. But Fehrnstrom was the first one to put that information into print—"I can remember his glee when he found the birth certificate," says former Herald reporter Robert Connolly—thus bringing a swift end to Garrison's future on Beacon Hill. [...]
"We political writers...were in fact a sort of underworld mob unto ourselves," Fehrnstrom later recalled in a 1999 essay about his journalism career that he wrote for Boston magazine. "We figured most pols were overdue in their accounts to the devil anyway." He added: "In my trade, politics was never personal. Hell, people were rarely people—they were ducks in a shooting gallery."
Soon after joining Romney's team a decade ago, Fehrnstrom showed the kind of guy he is by chest-bumping one of the then-governor's leading critics in a public confrontation that led a local cable news producer to intervene and separate the two men. Showing what kind of guy Romney is, he not only didn't fire or discipline Fehrnstrom, he also chastised a reporter for the Boston Globe who had written that Romney wasn't going to reprimand his aide. Fehrnstrom henceforth shielded Romney from the press, urging him not to answer questions. Romney literally fled when he ran into reporters casually. No doubt following Fehrnstrom's advice.
Good advice, in fact, since Romney tends to giggle when he gets caught off-guard by a question and prepares to tell another of his growing pile of lies.
In addition to permanently attaching "Etch-a-Sketch" to his boss, Fehrnstrom has also engaged in what some call "juvenile" behavior on Twitter, including setting up a fake account in which he attacked one of Scott Brown's Democratic opponents and, so very tellingly, ridiculed his anti-bullying campaign. A senior adviser said, "But no one's going to push Eric out of the way, given his relationship with the governor."
Like all bullies, Fehrnstrom does the pushing. Don't expect Romney to give him a haircut.