Eric Fehrnstrom, the prominent Republican consultant with experience in presidential politics, has been called consigliere, political pitbull, electoral knife-fighter. Now he has a new title, far afield from the world of attack ads and daily tracking polls: student of theology.
The longtime aide to Mitt Romney is enrolled as a member of the class of 2016 at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies.
While the program includes students preparing to enter the clergy, many graduates go on to other faith-informed ventures. The school calls itself “committed to the Catholic theological tradition, rigorous academic inquiry, interdisciplinary study, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and the engagement of faith and culture.”
Fehrnstrom helped guide Romney’s political career from his winning 2002 run for governor through his losing 2012 bid for the presidency, and served as a top adviser on former Senator Scott Brown’s successful 2010 Senate campaign.
First as a tabloid reporter and then as a political operative, Fehrnstrom has been widely renowned for a style that could spill over into the confrontational, including notable flare-ups with a Massachusetts mayor in the early days of the Romney administration and a reporter during Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
He drew headlines in 2012 when he compared various stages of a presidential campaign to an Etch-a-Sketch. Democrats pounced on the remark to portray Romney as a flip-flopper.
Even with his new scholastic undertaking, Fehrnstrom remains active in the political world, helping guide Brown’s move toward a Senate bid in New Hampshire this year.
As recently as Tuesday, Fehrnstrom appeared with Brown during a campaign visit in Rochester, N.H.
Fehrnstrom also joined other Romney alumni earlier this month at a ski retreat in Deer Valley, Utah. He declined to comment for this article.
Peter Flaherty, a fellow partner at the Shawmut Group, and a former Romney aide who served as the former governor’s liaison to religious leaders during his presidential campaigns, said of Fehrnstrom, “He has always been intellectually curious and this allows him the opportunity to pursue an academic degree in a subject matter that he has a great deal of interest in.”
Former state treasurer Joseph D. Malone said he never really saw a religious side to Fehrnstrom when Fehrnstrom was serving as his aide in the 1990s.
But he said he was not entirely surprised that Fehrnstrom was now delving into theological scholarship.
“I think of Eric as a guy who is pretty unpredictable and pretty open-minded so I could picture him getting to a certain juncture in life and wanting go explore something more deeply,” Malone said.