the national interest

Should Romney Embrace George W. Bush?

I had thought perhaps the trend of Republicans offering terrible campaign advice to Mitt Romney had reached a nadir last week, but clearly we have not yet hit bottom if they are now reaching for such suggestions as (per the headline on this Politico op-ed) “Time for Romney to defend Bush.” Yes! Defend Bush! Perhaps a series of joint national appearances with Romney and Bush! Or, if Bush is unavailable, Will Ferrell:

Now, the Politico op-ed, written by Keith Koffler, does wander into the vicinity of the right idea, before veering off into the disastrous embrace-Bush solution. “The Romney team,” he argues, “has failed to counter the White House storyline that Bush policies caused the massive recession Obama faced when he took office.” And that’s true; numerous polls have shown that most Americans blame Bush more than Obama for the economic crisis. But it’s a bit of a fallacy to take these at face value. These are polls that ask voters to assign blame for the economic crisis to a party, and “Bush” is the choice for people who believe the fault is not Obama’s. It’s not necessarily a specific belief that Bush directly caused the crisis.

The broader problem with Bush that conservatives have never acknowledged is not his responsibility for the crisis but his responsibility for the weak recovery that preceded it. In 1993, Republicans argued that Bill Clinton’s tax hikes on the rich would necessarily stifle their work incentive, reduce tax revenues, and prompt a recession. They were wrong but nonetheless followed through on their theory to make income tax cuts the centerpiece of their economic strategy. This produced a recovery that, even at its peak, failed to increase living standards. Yet, the Republican plan is to lock in the Bush tax cuts and then cut tax rates even further (supposedly offsetting the cost with unspecified reductions in loopholes and tax deductions and credits.)

That is the Bush legacy that Obama has successfully, and fairly, pinned on Romney. It’s remarkable how oblivious the Republican party has been to the political liability they have incurred. In the conservative mind, Bush’s economic strategy per se was a smashing success, its only drawback being the excessively large social spending. But Bushism plus large cuts to entitlement programs has never been a winning ticket.

Should Romney Embrace George W. Bush?