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Romney Bets Ranch on Bush's Best Thinking

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How Bush and Cheney can skip the GOP convention and still be there in force.

One of the most important things a leader does is hire and retain the best and brightest people. Yet all reports show Mitt Romney has gone to the well -- the one at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas -- to find most of his top advisers and staffers.

There are so many great people, I'm sure many Republicans, who weren't involved in the last administration, you'd think Mr. Romney would have screened out Bush-ites as personae non gratae. Quite the contrary, they are running his campaign and policy machines.

That tells us two things -- one, that Romney has a poorly disguised Bush fetish, and two, his distinctive hiring pattern (and therefore "leadership" to date) shows he's an unnecessary high-stakes risk-taker -- gambling the lessons of the past won't be repeated, even if conditions are similar. Such thinking could well put us on a merry ride directly into another Bush-style abyss.

And what a ride we had the last time. On their watch on national security, foreign policy and the economy, we weathered the worst domestic terror attack since Pearl Harbor, phony reports of weapons of mass destruction, two ensuing wars, a seven-year failure to track and neutralize al-Qaeda leaders such as Bin Laden (later rectified by President Obama), and a nationwide economic collapse.

In fact, while W. Bush and Cheney are too radioactive even to attend the Republican National Convention, their "people" are going to be there in force, advising and working for Mr. Romney.

An analysis of the 176 or so Romney campaign staffers and advisers shows a clear Bush radioactivity level of around 40 percent, which is generous, as it counts all levels and roles from Garrett Jackson, his 25-year-old "body man" to ex-senators and coal industry CEOs.

A sharp look at the critical policy areas, though, shows an alarmingly high Bush radioactivity level -- closer to 70 percent. Those in key positions on the campaign are most likely to be first round cabinet and staff picks for the White House, and therefore will be (again) running the executive branch of our Government. They didn't do so well with that the last time.

According to The Nation, "Of Romney's forty identified foreign policy advisers, more than 70 percent worked for Bush."

My own analysis shows roughly the same number applies to Romney's National Security advisers and Economic Policy team. When it comes to veterans, trade, education and law enforcement, it's more like 85 percent with strong ties to the Bush administration.

Most of the Romney for America campaign leaders and strategists also had some role during Bush campaigns and administrations, notably including overall campaign manager Matt Rhoades, policy director Lanhee Chen, senior adviser Ed Gillespie, transition head Mike Leavitt, all members of the legal and RNC liaison teams, and strategists Stewart Stevens and Russ Schriefer.

So what?

As they say in recovery circles, if you want what you got, do what you did. Therefore, it's telling and alarming to see Mr. Romney playing with fire by choosing his key people from the charred roster of a previously failed administration.

Maybe he lacks the leader-like hiring skills, funding clout and/or the exciting new ideas necessary to select and retain the best and brightest non-cronies. Whatever the reason, to show "new" convincingly, one would expect a benchmark of Bush folks well south of 20 percent.

There may be "change" or "new" tucked in Romney's hip pocket. But if you're risk averse and betting on change, a bird in the hand -- President Obama -- is worth more than the guy in the Bush.

I suppose it's possible Mr. Romney could keep 70 percent plus Bush people in key roles AND avoid creating a third Bush term with an associated meltdown. Yet probabilities would suggest otherwise. It got so bad back then, pre-Obama, I can't imagine we as a nation would want to bet OUR ranch on it.

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