Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GOP still haunted by George W. Bush?

Two analysts say that Romney hasn't shaken the ghost of W.

Posted by on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 10:18 AM

George-W-Bush.jpg
As Barack Obama continues to enjoy the "sugar high" from last week's DNC in Charlotte, some conservatives are freaking out because Mitt Romney hasn't taken the lead with just eight weeks to go before the presidential election.

On Monday morning, talk show host Laura Ingraham said, "If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people."

But before everyone piles on Romney as an imperfect candidate, some are looking back — at George W. Bush.

Today on the New York Times website, one of its house conservatives, Ross Douthat, wrote a blog post about president 43 called, "The Elephant in the Room." Douthat described how in 2004, the Republican Party still had a good enough reputation enabling Bush to win re-election. But:

Four years later, the dream was dead, and the public’s trust on both fronts was all-but-exhausted. The mismanagement of the Iraq occupation, piled on top of the W.M.D. fiasco, cost Bush’s party its reputation for foreign policy competence, while the Bush boom, such as it was, delivered weaker returns to the middle class than either the Reagan or the Clinton expansion — and then the financial crisis undid even those meager gains.

Since Bush left office, conservatives have been willing to acknowledge his failures as a fiscal conservative and to promise more responsibility on deficits and debt. This has been a necessary and important shift, responsible both for the energy of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm elections and for the current Republican ticket’s (relatively) brave proposals on entitlement reform.

Although conservative critics (like Jeb Bush) say they're tired of hearing Barack Obama blame George W. for the economic mess, the public still believes the Bush years are responsible for the current situation (the Gallup poll showed 68 percent lay the blame on Bush, while 52 percent lay the onus on Obama).

Douthat ended his piece with this devastating critique:


This is the simple reality of presidential politics in 2012. Americans don’t want to give the White House back to the Republicans because they remember the Bush era all too well. If they continue to be disappointed at the polls, conservatives will eventually recognize this problem, and grope toward some sort of solution. Until then, the fault for their party’s underperformance will lie not in the stars or the structure of our society, but in their own stubborn selves.

In the current Newsweek, center-left columnist Peter Beinart also referred to Bush in his column. The sub-head reads, "Why Dubya will decide the winner this fall." Beinart wrote that in 2000, after eight years of Bill Clinton, Democrats had a double-digit advantage when it came to who Americans felt more favorably towards. Then:

When George W. Bush was elected, presided over catastrophes in Iraq, the financial system, and the Gulf Coast—and the GOP’s public image nosedived. Democrats haven’t maintained all the good will they racked up in the Clinton era, which isn’t surprising given the lousy state of the economy. But neither have Republicans rebounded much from their Bush-era collapse. And the result is a Democratic advantage, especially among rising demographic groups like Hispanics and the young.

Beinart wrote that John McCain couldn't exorcise the "Bush ghost" in 2008, and so far neither has Romney. In part it's because Romney hasn't been able to define himself, something his campaign acknowledges. This is why the last night of the RNC was devoted to positive testimonials of the nominee, followed by a classy biographical film on C-SPAN that impressed most viewers.

What most people will remember from the last night of the RNC is Clint Eastwood. He was followed by Marco Rubio and then Mittens, who definitely came off as what Beinhart called a, "generic Republican." Which is a problem, he wrote, because when Americans think of generic Republicans, they think of George W. Bush.

One day, a Republican presidential candidate will exorcise Bush’s ghost. But most likely, he or she will do so by bluntly telling Americans where Bush’s presidency went wrong, and how their presidency will be different. Until that happens, George W. Bush will be present at every Republican and Democratic convention for years to come, whether anyone invites him or not.

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