By Molly K. Hooper - 07/01/12 10:00 AM EDT
Republican lawmakers say Mitt Romney should distance himself from former President George W. Bush.
Such a move, they say, would take away a key political advantage from President Obama, who has repeatedly suggested Romney would embrace Bush-like policies in the White House.
Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) who rode the wave of anti-incumbency fervor into the House in 2010, said Romney should firmly separate himself from Bush’s economic policies.
“Many of us, myself included, got into politics because we were appalled at the Bush record on spending,” Mulvaney said in an interview with The Hill.
Mulvaney, who ousted veteran Democratic lawmaker John Spratt, said his party made mistakes on spending in the early 2000’s, and should be the “first ones to admit it … and to do better next time.”
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Other Republican lawmakers, including those in leadership positions, admit that the GOP lost its way during Bush's tenure when government spending spiked.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 68 percent of respondents said Bush is responsible for a “great deal or a moderate amount” of current economic woes, while only 52 percent blamed Obama. Gallup has tracked “blame assessment” since six months after Obama took office; when 80 percent blamed Bush, and 32 percent blamed Obama. Since mid-2010 however, the numbers settled into the current range.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said Romney needs to be politically savvy and oppose unpopular programs signed into law by the 43rd president.
“Some of these programs are not popular, like No Child Left Behind and the [Troubled Asset Relief Program]. I think [Romney’s] made it abundantly clear: no more bailouts. Bush also did a stimulus program, $168 billion in May of '08. And so he can say, 'I'm not doing stimulus programs,'" Kingston said.
The presumptive GOP presidential contender does not need to be disrespectful in opposing prior Bush programs and policies, wrote Jonah Goldberg in a column for the National Review titled, “Memo to Mitt: Run Against Bush.”
“So long as Romney is respectful in how he frames his criticisms of GOP spending under Bush, most rank-and-file Republicans and movement conservatives will probably applaud as well,” Goldberg wrote in an online post-script to a lengthy editorial encouraging Romney “to turn the tables on Obama and make Obama defend his continuation of Bush’s spending binge.”
Early Romney-supporter Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) mostly agrees with Goldberg. He said that the former Massachusetts governor shouldn’t go out of his way to attack Bush, but should say that certain Bush-era programs should be nixed.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney needs to defend or attack what George Bush did. Romney needs to say, ‘I’m Mitt Romney, I’m now. That was George Bush, that was then. Here’s what I’m going to do now,” Campbell explained.
The Bush family has embraced Romney's candidacy. Bush, former President George H. W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have backed him. And Jeb Bush has been mentioned as a possible contender to serve on the 2012 GOP ticket.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had a tough time distinguishing himself from Bush, despite his independent streak and bitter 2000 primary against Obama's predecessor.
Obama has invoked McCain on many occasions this year to drive home his point that Romney is an extreme candidate. Obama has noted that McCain and he have similar positions on climate change, immigration and campaign finance reform.
Mulvaney said Romney needs to take on prior GOP missteps to prove that he’s not afraid to challenge his own party.
“People want to know that you're not just a party hack who's going to do just what the Republicans want just because it's a Republican idea,” Mulvaney said.
Still, one veteran GOP lawmaker thinks that Romney shouldn’t fall into the trap of assessing blame.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), former head of the House GOP campaign arm, contends that Romney needs to keep the spotlight firmly on Obama’s record.
“[Democrats] are going to say whatever they are going to say anyway. They spent four years running against George Bush. They are going to spend four more months doing the same thing. If I were Gov. Romney, I wouldn’t take the bait. I’d keep it exactly where it belongs: the president’s performance,” Cole said.
A Republican strategist close to Romney’s campaign told The Hill earlier this year that the likely strategy would be to avoid discussing Bush’s two terms in office, even when asked directly about him.
“When questions are asked about Bush, it’ll be a combination of being respectful of Bush but then pivoting to his own agenda and the contrasts with the current president,” said the strategist. “It’s not going to benefit Romney to get into a long, protracted discussion about the successes and failures of President George W. Bush’s presidency.”