Romney, And The GOP, Still Haunted By The Legacy Of George W. Bush

The GOP still hasn't dealt with the legacy of George W. Bush.

The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart sees a spectre haunting Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, the spectre of George W. Bush:

Conventional wisdom holds that elections are about the future. Or about the personalities of the candidates. Or at least about voters’ perceptions of the last four years. But a quick glance at history shows that’s not always so. Republicans won every election between 1868 and 1880—not because Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield were such fabulous candidates, and not because their Democratic opponents were so awful. Nor did they win because of the conditions in the country at the time. They won because when Americans thought about the Republican Party, they thought about Abraham Lincoln. And when they thought about the Democrats, they thought about Jefferson Davis

The same thing happened after the New Deal. In 1948, Harry Truman was personally unpopular and Americans were in a foul mood. But Truman won in large measure because of the way Americans felt about the Democratic and Republican parties, impressions created less by him or his GOP opponent, Thomas Dewey, than by two guys named Roosevelt and Hoover, who had faced off in 1932. The same was true in 1988, when George H.W. Bush, a weak candidate in his own right, made his race versus Michael Dukakis another referendum on Ronald Reagan versus Jimmy Carter.

Beinart’s recitation of history is, of course, correct. From the period starting in 1860, and ending in 1913 when Woodrow Wilson took office, Republicans controlled the White House for all but the 12 years representing the single term of Andrew Johnson and the non-consecutive terms of Grover Cleveland and, throughout that time, the rallying cry of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” were strong Republican rallying points in election after election. Similarly, national resentments against the GOP that started with the Hoover Administration proved to be an effective rallying cry for quite some time, although Democrats clearly didn’t have quite the same success in that regard as post-Civil War Republicans did. Democrats captured the White House in 1976 thanks in no small part to a guy named Richard Milhouse Nixon. Four years later, the failed Carter Administration proved an effective Republican whipping boy for several election cycles until another southern Governor named Bill Clinton found a way to lead his party out of the wilderness. Now, Democrats are doing the same to the GOP with the Presidency of George W. Bush which, outside of Republican Party stalwarts, most Americans clearly consider to be a period in time that they’d rather forget.

On some level, one has to believe that Republican party insiders realize just how poisonous the Bush 43 legacy is to the party’s future prospects.  Unlike the Democrats, neither of the living former Republican Presidents spoke live to the Republican convention. Instead, both Presidents Bush appeared in a video that was really more of a tribute to the legacy of George H.W. Bush than an acknowledgement of anything that happened between January 20, 2001 and January 20, 2009. Indeed, under normal circumstances I would have expected President Bush 41 to have appeared in person at the convention in Tampa if only because there’s a good chance it may be the last Republican Convention that he is around for, and he is a man whose legacy of service to his country deserves to be acknowledged. While it was apparently health that kept the former President from appearing in person, one still has to wonder if the legacy of his son also played a role in the party’s failure to give him the same farewell that Ronald Reagan received in 1992.

In the specific case of President Bush 43, though, it’s really rather obvious why the Republican Party would want to distance itself as much as possible from its most recent former President. After all, George W. Bush left office with some of the lowest job approval ratings in modern American history. His Vice-President had disapproval ratings that would make Satan himself embarrassed. Beyond the polls, though, he left office with an economic legacy that included eight years of tax cuts combined with increased entitlement spending and two wars of unknown duration. In other words, the very definition of insanity itself. On some level, everyone who observed the Republican primary fight in 2008 seemed to realize that what we were really looking at is a race to pick the guy who would end up losing to whoever the Democratic nominee ending up being.  Four years later, the reputation of the  former President has by now means improved.

The problem for contemporary Republicans like Romney is that, while they do not mention George W. Bush’s name, they have not repudiated George W. Bush’s legacy.  In the domestic arena , they continue to embrace the illusions of a world where we can cut taxes while making ultimately modest cuts in spending on the non-defense side, and proposing massive increases in defense spending for no rational reason. Internationally, the legacy of George W. Bush stands largely for a war built upon fault intelligence and incredibly bad planning that has left us, in the end, with little more than a fatally wounded Iraq that has, inevitably, become an ally of Iraq and Syria. Additionally, the legacy of George W. Bush includes a fiscal policy that can be summarized as the utterly insane idea that you can cut taxes while simultaneously massively increasing entitlement spending and fighting two wars.

Republicans say that they have learned from the Bush years, but when you look at the proposals they put forward, it’s pretty clear that they have not. Taking a lead from Congressional Republicans that include the supposedly fiscally conservative Tea Party, Mitt Romney has effectively taken a stand against the idea of cutting the Federal Budget, largely because of  the fact that it includes cuts to the defense budget. Adding on to that, Romney has proposed increasing the defense budget by two trillion dollars over the course of ten years to fight threats that don’t really exist. Not surprisingly, of course, there are few people on the right who are either uncomfortable with, or even acknowledging the obvious similarities between Romney and Bush 43.

Beinart closes:

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.

It took Democrats 20 years to exorcise the ghost of George McGovern and that bizarre New Left turn the party took in the early 70s. Will it take the GOP that long?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    It took Democrats 20 years to exorcise the ghost of George McGovern and that bizarre New Left turn the party took in the early 70s. Will it take the GOP that long?

    If they win, they’ll take it as a sign to keep doing what they’re doing. If they lose it could go either way, doubling down or rethinking their place in American politics. I don’t know, but they’ve made it impossible for me to vote for them, and I am not a fan of the current President.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Will it take the GOP that long?

    When you consider the changing demographics of our nation and their doubling down on the “angry white guys” for votes, it could take a whole lot longer.

  3. EddieInCA says:

    Doug –

    I’ve been asking conservatives supporting Romney to answer just one question:

    “How are the policies of Mitt Romney in any way different than the policies pushed by GW Bush?”

    If you think that the policies of GW Bush were bad for the country, and I think it’s safe to say that they were, how can anyone support Mitt Romney, who is parroting the same policies?

  4. Fiona says:

    Good piece, Doug.

    I agree with Ben, which is why I’m not hopeful they’ll find their bearings anytime soon. I suspect they’ll get a lot worse before they get better.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The problem for contemporary Republicans like Romney is that, while they do not mention George W. Bush’s name, they have not repudiated George W. Bush’s legacy policies.

    FTFY, Doug.

  6. Markey says:

    George who??

  7. PJ says:

    Obama wins in 2012.
    While GOP strategists are saying this is the last time that they will try to win by just courting white voters, I doubt that they will accomplish that in 2016.
    So, the Democrat wins in 2016.
    The incumbent wins in 2020.

    Perhaps in 2024.

  8. While we’re doing FTFY 😉

    His Vice-President had disapproval ratings that would make Satan himself [proud]

  9. stonetools says:

    What Romney did was to take the economic policy of Bush, turn it up to 11, slap a new coat of paint on it, and offer it to the American people as the solution to our current economic problems. The American people saw it for what it is, which is why Obama’s lead is widening.
    To be honest, even Bushism is really Reaganism with a new coat of paint . Republicanism is Romney’s problem, not Bush-that is, the post 1980 version of Republicanism.

  10. Facebones says:

    It took Democrats 20 years to exorcise the ghost of George McGovern and that bizarre New Left turn the party took in the early 70s. Will it take the GOP that long?

    Probably. At least 4-8 more years, anyway.

    If the Republicans lose, they’ll take it as a sign that they weren’t right wing enough. They ran two moderate candidates in a row and still got beat by the Black Muslim Marxist Kenyan Usurper Product of Affirmative Action Who Can’t Read Without a Teleprompter..

    “Romney was a squish! We need a real conservative with real backbone!” And then they’ll start a Draft Tancredo movement and alienate the small sliver of the Hispanic vote they still get.

    So, no. Get ready for a Steve King-Michelle Bachmann ticket in ’16.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    Good piece, Doug.

    I would add that Bush the Elder is unpopular with the Republican base precisely because his Administration embraced the opposite of his son’s performance in the White House. It was willing to raise taxes as part of a deal with Democrats. It engaged in a war with limited objectives and overwhelming global support. Had Bush the Elder spoken at the convention, his reception was likely to be chilly.

  12. Facebones says:

    @Moosebreath: And don’t forget Bush the Elder’s biggest sin: He lost to Bill Clinton!

  13. LaMont says:

    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

    But how do you have this type of conversation with someone whos only response is “There you go again, blaming Bush!”

    Its not about blaming Bush anymore. Its about that old cliche saying – If you don’t know your history you’re doomed to repeat it!

  14. Rob in CT says:

    when they thought about the Democrats, they thought about Jefferson Davis

    Just a quibble, but I’d expect they also thought of Vallandigham and McClellan.

    As for grappling with Dubya’s legacy… well, there’s also the question of exactly how/why he went wrong. There is the Tea Party faction who thinks he was basically a liberal, and that’s why he was a screwup (conservatives never fails, it can only be failed). Is there any other analysis that challenges this view inside the GOP?

  15. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Ah, Bush Derangement Syndrome. Is there any cure?

    Regarding national elections, a lot of factors and elements are involved. The first item to consider is whether or not there’s an incumbent or a de facto incumbent. Thereafter it’s mostly if not all about the stupid, economy. In this particular election cycle, however, there’s a wild card: lock step demographic identities.

  16. Jr says:

    The Republican brand in general is toxic, not just Bush.

  17. Assuming an Obama win in 2012, and no massive cluster-fuck by 2016, the Dems would be favored to win then as the GOP will nominate Ryan-Santorum or some pairing like that as TRUE CONSERVATISM has NEVAH been run on… and we all know all TRUE AMERICANS (TM) want their parents moving in with them when they break down as Social Security is for losers….or something like that.

    2020 may see a few Huntsman Republicans run (conservative but not crazy)…but demographics will take a toll and quite a few people who may be receptive to a GOP economic pitch will remember how recently the GOP called them the source of all of America’s problems.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    Essentially, current Republican Party conservatives have already run a Stalinist purge on George W Bush – he was a RINO, or worse, just another Liberal.

    Interesting but, I find Bush to be more principled than Romney.

  19. @Facebones:

    Actually, I’m betting that if Romney loses, 2016 will be the Santorum ticket.

  20. The Romney campaign has been one big contradiction. They are running on principles they know they cannot talk about. I guess that means they were counting on a sly win?

  21. legion says:

    What OzarkHillbilly said.

    The way they’re recruiting Bush’s old advisors, and fronting all of his old policies, it’s less “being haunted” by Bush’s legacy and more “actively conducting a seance” for Bush’s legacy…

  22. jukeboxgrad says:

    doug:

    the legacy of George W. Bush includes a fiscal policy that can be summarized as the utterly insane idea that you can cut taxes while simultaneously massively increasing entitlement spending and fighting two wars

    It’s important to notice that Paul Ryan voted to support all that. Which means only “the utterly insane” trust Ryan when he presents himself as a deficit hawk.

    Ryan thoroughly embraced Bush policy, and Mitt is doing the same thing by embracing Ryan.

  23. mike says:

    I will no longer vote republican. Bush has proven that Repubs are not fiscal conservatives and since I am a bit of a social liberal, why would I go with Romney? I am tired of the repubs running a candidate who runs for the right wing fringes while they spent their career near the center. – first McCain and now Romney. Romney has proven that he will be whatever the polls tell him to be in order to win.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Ah, Bush Derangement Syndrome. Is there any cure?

    As opposed to your Democratic Derangement Syndrome, Young People Derangement Syndrome, Liberal Derangement Syndrome, Media Derangement Syndrome, etc. etc. etc. Judging by what you have typed, you have yet to find the cures…

  25. Barfour says:

    If Romney lose in 2012, Republicans will nominate Jeb Bush in 2016, note Ryan or Santurom. I don’t knows if Jeb will advocate policies that are more competent than his brother’s.

  26. Wayne says:

    Voter fraud doesn’t happen, right!
    Democrat withdraws from 1st District congressional race after allegations she voted in two states

    How often does this happen and we don’t know it. This is a politician doing it for Christ sake.

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-wendy-rosen-withdraws-20120910,0,3764352.story

  27. Rob in CT says:

    @Wayne:

    See also: Thaddeus McCotter (in his case, forged petitions, if I recall correctly).

    I note that Democratic leaders raised the allegations and wanted Rosen out.

    There is still very little evidence of in-person vote fraud. I’m far more concerned about the vote-counters than the voters.

  28. stonetools says:

    No Bush will be on a Republican Presidential ticket for a generation.
    If Romney loses, there will be an all out struggle for the soul of the Republican Party between the “true conservatives” who will want to double down on social conservatism,and anti-immigrantism, etc, and the “pragmatists”. Generally, the rigorists tend to win such arguments, which is why I expect Santorum or someone like him on the ticket in 2016.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Wayne:

    How often? Really? How often do American citizens vote in two different states? I’m going to say if you round the number off to the nearest ten, it’s zero.

  30. Fiona says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Interesting but, I find Bush to be more principled than Romney.

    You’re assuming that Romney actually has principles. Other than winning, I’m not sure he does.

  31. swbarnes2 says:

    @Wayne:

    Democrat withdraws from 1st District congressional race after allegations she voted in two states

    Wonderful, a very rare form of voter fraud that voter ID would never have caught.

    What you would have been needed was a federal government agency overseeing all the election records of every county, double-checking duplicate names. That’s government spending. That’s more bueraucracy. It’s the only fix for the problem; is that the course of action you are advocating?

  32. swbarnes2 says:

    @john personna:

    The Romney campaign has been one big contradiction. They are running on principles they know they cannot talk about. I guess that means they were counting on a sly win?

    They are counting on winning on the principle that “Us (rich) white straight Christian men own this country, and we will take it back from the rest of the population”.

    And that mesage is being communicated fine, with only a thin veneer of euphamism.

  33. anjin-san says:

    To be fair, I think the GOP is haunted by candidates present, in the form of Romney/Ryan, just as much as by the ghost of a President past. It’s a party with a very poor product offering…

  34. bandit says:

    @Jr: GOP controls HOR and may control the Senate after 2012.

  35. C. Clavin says:

    @ Tsar…

    “…Ah, Bush Derangement Syndrome. Is there any cure?”

    9.11 happened on Bushes watch. Today we are hearing that the number of warnings he ignored is far greater and more dire than we have previously known.
    He passed two un-paid for tax cuts by reconciliation and they continue to be the biggest drivers our deficits today.
    He expanded Medicare without paying for it and left a donut hole of increased costs for seniors.
    He chose to fight a completely unnecessary and unjustified war that cost trillions of dollars (also unpaid for) and killed thousands of our troops.
    He ignored Afghanistan.
    Now you can say that critics of those just plain stupid policies victims of derangement…but if being able to recognize gross failure is derangement…then I am deranged. But that begs the question…what does that make sycophants like you?

  36. sam says:

    @Wayne:

    Voter fraud doesn’t happen, right!

    Dude, that’s candidate fraud, not voter fraud. And, as was flagged above, see Thaddeus McCotter:

    From July 2 to September 21, 2011, he was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in the 2012 election. After quitting his presidential campaign he decided to run again for his seat in Congress, but he failed to qualify for the 2012 Republican primary in his congressional district after massive fraud resulted in the rejection of approximately 85% of his petition signatures as invalid. He briefly mounted a write-in bid in the primary, and on June 2, 2012, announced he would retire from the House at the end of his current term. On July 6, 2012, McCotter resigned from Congress in disgrace. Subsequent investigation showed that he had failed to qualify for office since 2006.

  37. anjin-san says:

    How often do American citizens vote in two different states?

    I’m planning a trek to North Dakota so I can vote twice.

  38. anjin-san says:

    The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the law that created the World Trade Center Health Program to provide compensation for illnesses for the first responders and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, has been expanded to include coverage for a variety of cancers.

    Paul Ryan was among the Republicans voting against providing coverage to the 9/11 heroes. He voted against it in July 2010. He voted against it in September 2010. He didn’t vote against final passage in December 2010 because he’s already skipped town for the holiday break. But when Congress reconvened in January, he gave a floor statement saying that he would have voted against it, again.

  39. Davebo says:

    Ah, Bush Derangement Syndrome. Is there any cure?

    Sadly no, you’re still doomed.

  40. Dave says:

    @Rob in CT: Most people now forget about McClellan trying to wrest power away from Lincoln in the early days of the Civil War as he was losing battles. But that probably was remembered then.

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @sam:

    Dude, that’s candidate fraud, not voter fraud.

    Sam, she voted in both Maryland and Florida in several elections. That is voter fraud.

  42. Wayne says:

    @Sam
    Voting in two states is voter fraud even if a politician does it.

    @Michael
    Without a detection mechanism, there is no way of knowing.

    @swbarnes2
    Voter ID combined with other measures would. Many states are in process of purging voters roles of dead people and voters register in other states. A federal database of voters would go a long ways to keep people from voting in two states. Florida is famous because of the retirees of having people vote in two states. If you think she is the only one that does it then I have a bridge to Hawaii to sell you.

  43. legion says:

    @Wayne:

    Voter ID combined with other measures would.

    Fixed that for you. The VID laws proposed by GOP tools across the country have exactly nothing to do with detecting voter fraud. Their only purpose, by design, is to limit the number of actual Americans allowed to vote. Take a quick look at OH and PA to see the baldness of the attempts to keep “certain people” from being able to have their say.

  44. swbarnes2 says:

    @Wayne:

    Many states are in process of purging voters roles of dead people

    Purging dead people isn’t as easy as you think. What if Charles Smith moves in with his son Charles ‘Chip’ Smith at 123 Whatever street in March, and dies in October, without changing his voter info. Can’t you see how easy it would be to accidently strike the son off the rolls by accident?

    Do you have evidence as to the numbers of people who fradulently vote in the names of people who are truly dead, and how do those stats compare to the false positives like Chip, or people who send in mail ballots alive, and then die before election day?

    A federal database of voters would go a long ways to keep people from voting in two states.

    Are you willing to pay taxes towards that large government program? A govenrment fit to drown in a bathtub can’t do what you want it to do. No business would say “Hey, let’s spend 10x what we are currently spending to improve our service by .0000001%”; is that how you want the government to prioritize its money?

  45. al-Ameda says:

    @Fiona:

    You’re assuming that Romney actually has principles. Other than winning, I’m not sure he does.

    You’re right.
    Because Romney is so ambitious and arrogant, I do not think that he believes in much except getting elected, in winning. After all, he’s been winning his entire life, so this is no surprise.

  46. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Good piece, Doug.

    I think the more interesting question is what will happen to Ryan if Romney loses. He represents the shiny new form of Republicanism that really is just the old Republicanism with a new coat of paint as mentioned above, and I think what happens to him will really tell us where the party is headed.

    For the record, I think if they lose in 2012, Republicans won’t win again before 2024 unless they make a dramatic ideological turn.

  47. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The Democrats kept control of the U.S House for 22 years after McGovern lost and held the senate for eight.

    The idea that the Democrats were in the same position that the Republicans were after McCain lost in a rout is laughable. Besides, the Democrats have known for 25 years that demographics were all going their way. The Republicans have to know that the demographic situation is against them.