WASHINGTON — Former President George W. Bush is skipping the Republican National Convention next month in Tampa, Fla., where presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney will officially become the party's standard-bearer.

"President Bush was grateful for the invitation," his spokesman, Freddy Ford, said Friday in an email. He added that the 43rd president "is confident that Mitt Romney will be a great president. But he's still enjoying his time off the political stage and respectfully declined the invitation to go to Tampa."

Bush's presence at the convention could undercut Romney's argument that he knows better than President Barack Obama when it comes to improving the wobbly economy. A CBS News/New York Times poll this month found more voters say Bush deserves the bulk of the blame for the nation's economic downturn than think Obama bears a lot of the responsibility. Almost two-thirds of voters think Romney's economic policies would mirror Bush's at least somewhat.

Bush was deeply unpopular when he left office in 2009 amid the nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He has largely stayed out of politics since returning to Texas with his wife, Laura.

In a recent interview with the Hoover Institution's Peter Robinson, Bush left little doubt that he prefers to observe the often-messy process.

"I've crawled out of the swamp. And, I'm not crawling back in!" Bush said. "I'm interested in politics. I'm a supporter of Mitt Romney. I hope he does well. But he can do well without me."

He added that he's trying to regain some anonymity "as best I can."

"I really don't want to be in the public eye anymore and feel a certain sense of liberation not being out there," Bush said in the interview.

Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, announced earlier this week that he plans to skip the convention for health reasons. That means Romney will accept his party's nomination without any former GOP presidents in the audience.

The elder Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, said it will be the first time since 1976, when Bush was director of the CIA and refrained from partisan activities, that he won't attend the Republican Party gathering.

Bush, 88, has a form of Parkinson's disease that afflicts his legs. He uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter.

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  • Jan. 10, 2012 -- "That Smell"

    At a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Romney dodged the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/mitt-romney-marijuana_n_1197619.html" target="_hplink">medical marijuana</a> issue. "It's a long ... it's a long question," he told a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "It deserves a full answer, and not just in a photo line like this." (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Jan. 24, 2012 -- "Still Unbroken"

    Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/mitt-romney-tax-returns-released_n_1225247.html" target="_hplink">released his tax records</a>, showing that he and his wife, Ann, paid a 2010 rate of 13.9 percent. Thanks to a large portion of his earnings stemming from capital gains and investments, that amount was below what most Americans paid. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Feb. 1, 2012 -- "The Ballad Of Curtis Loew"

    In an interview with CNN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">Romney told viewers</a> that he's "not concerned about the very poor," explaining that there is a social safety net in place for that part of the population.

  • March 7, 2012 -- "Tuesday's Gone"

    Romney fell short of breaking away from the GOP field on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/mitt-romney-results-super-tuesday-2012_n_1318741.html" target="_hplink">Super Tuesday</a>. Even with a narrow win in Ohio and a host of losses in other states, optimism was abound. "There will be good days and bad days, always long hours and never enough time," he said during his speech. "But, on November 6th, we will stand united -- not only having won an election, but having saved a future." (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • March 12, 2012 -- "What's Your Name?"

    In an attempt to reach out to Southern voters, Romney mixed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/12/mitt-romney-hugs-southern-girls-mobile-alabama_n_1339692.html" target="_hplink">age, women and hugs all in one</a>. At a campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama, he emphasized his desire to have female voters embrace his White House run. "Please give us a big hug, that's the girls," Romney said. "I've been getting hugs from the Southern girls ... from 12, to well, a lot more than 12." (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • March 12, 2012 -- "Sweet Home Alabama"

    Rain or shine, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/12/mitt-romney-alabama-sardines_n_1339265.html" target="_hplink">Romney has his way with words</a>. At a stormy campaign event in Alabama, Mitt and his ralliers huddled under a restaurant overhang to escape the inclement weather. "Look at us in here," Romney remarked. "We are all nice together, all nice and wet, you know, like a can of sardines." (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • April 13, 2012 -- "God & Guns"

    Speaking at an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/mitt-romney-nra-beware_n_1424081.html" target="_hplink">NRA convention</a> in St. Louis, Romney warned that reelecting President Barack Obama would lead to an "unrestrained" assault on freedom. He enforced his pro-gun stance at the event, telling listeners that "the right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous, that liberals have a hard time challenging it directly. Instead, they've been employing every imaginable ploy to restrict it." (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • April 15, 2012 -- "Simple Man"

    MSNBC's "Up w/ Chris Hayes" unearthed a controversial January 2012 comment from Romney on moms and work. The GOP hopeful told a Manchester, N.H., audience that poor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/15/mitt-romney-mothers-welfare-moms_n_1426113.html" target="_hplink">stay-at-home mothers</a> should be given federal assistance so they can get jobs and "have the dignity of work." This news arrived days after his anger at Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's criticism of Ann Romney not working "a day in her life." (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

  • May 29, 2012 -- "Free Bird"

    Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/mitt-romney-republican-nomination_n_1554534.html" target="_hplink">clinched the GOP nomination</a>, soaring past the required 1,144 delegates with a Texas primary win. "We did it!" he said in a message to supporters, adding that "it's only the beginning." (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • June 13, 2012 -- "Gimme Three Steps"

    Reporters were kicked out of a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/14/reporters-mitt-romney-reporters_n_1596650.html" target="_hplink">Romney event at the Newseum</a> in Washington D.C. One of the press members on hand said that Mitt stayed to take questions, but the media was escorted out before being able to hear any answers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)