01/26/2009 02:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

OH-Sen: Rob Portman, "A Bush Guy"

Republican Senate candidate two-time George W. Bush appointee Rob Portman will no doubt spend the entirety of his Senate campaign running away from George W. Bush and his record. However, that will be awfully difficult given that Portman served as George W. Bush's Trade Representative (May 17, 2005 - May 29, 2006) and Office of Management and Budget Director (May 29, 2006 - June 19, 2007), two key roles on George W. Bush's economic team. Nevertheless, Portman is trying to run from Bush and has been called out for it. I thought an early examination of Portman's relationship to George W. Bush might be in order.

Portman and George W. Bush's Record Budget Deficits

When Bush nominated Portman in April '06 to be his budget director, Portman set clear goals and outlined how to reach those goals:

"Now is not the time to risk losing ground by raising taxes," he said. "Instead we must continue pro-growth policies and tighten our fiscal belts in order to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

How did Portman do in the deficit-slashing department?

The budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2006, when Portman took over as budget director, was about $250 billion. The budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2008, the most recently completed fiscal year, was over $450 billion. Portman's goal was to cut the budget deficit in half. Instead, the budget deficit nearly doubled. That is the legacy of George W. Bush's budget director, Rob Portman.

Portman and George W. Bush's "Poor" Economy

Well, that's the budget; but, what about trade? Portman sounded awfully excited to stand at Bush's side and promote Bush's agenda back in the day:

Mr. President, thank you very much. I am very proud to stand at your side, and I am grateful for you giving me this opportunity to join your Cabinet and promote the bold international trade agenda you just described.

Well, what do Ohioans think of Mr. Bush and his economic agenda, including that "bold" agenda Portman supported?

The poll, conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, produced an overall approval rating of 29 percent for President George Bush and 61 percent for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, according to a news release.

More specifically, 28 percent of respondents approve of Bush's handling of foreign affairs and the war in Iraq, while 26 percent approve of the way he has handled the economy, according to the poll.

In that poll from just this past summer (before the Wall Street collapse, which no doubt drove Ohioans' opinion of the economy even further down), more than half of Ohioans labeled both the U.S. economy and Ohio's economy as "poor" and nearly 80% said that the economy would get worse. And Rob Portman was a key architect of George W. Bush's "poor" economy.

Portman and CAFTA

Specifically, let's take CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, for example. The Northeast Ohio Campaign for Manufacturing co-signed a letter (in PDF) which included the following:

Although you promise that CAFTA will open big new foreign markets for U.S.-made goods, the opposite is clearly true. The results of the outsourcing deals that have dominated U.S. trade policy over the last fifteen years are in: gargantuan trade deficits, shuttered factories, and formerly middle class American sliding down the job and wage scales. CAFTA is simply the latest in this series of outsourcing deals that are gutting our domestic manufacturing base.

That's the sentiment of Ohio's manufacturers. What about Ohio's farmers? (in PDF):

OFU [The Ohio Farmers Union] continues to oppose CAFTA and calls for re-pealing both CAFTA and NAFTA

Further, the Ohio AFL-CIO offered the position of Ohio's workforce on CAFTA:

The U.S. House and Senate are ready to take action on the badly flawed Central American Free Trade Agreement -- a deal that will mean the loss of more jobs in Ohio and the United States while doing nothing to improve working conditions or wages for workers in Central American countries.

Why is it salient that large segments of Ohio's hurting workforce opposed CAFTA?

Portman, 50, left a promising career on the House GOP leadership track to join the administration a year ago and promptly helped win House passage of the controversial CAFTA accord by the narrowest of margins.

Without Rob Portman leading the way, CAFTA may not have passed, and would not have existed to hurt Ohio's workforce.

Portman and Privatizing Social Security

Portman, even during his Congressional years, has been a strong supporter of George W. Bush's plan to privatize social security. Had Portman and Bush had their way, countless senior citizens would have seen their retirement security deteriorate before their eyes as Wall Street crumbled. Well, what did Portman say about Bush's plan to privatize social security (in PDF)?

President Bush has demonstrated political courage and leadership on this issue. We must develop sound policies now, to reduce the rate of growth and put these programs on a sustainable footing for the future.

George W. Bush: Portman's Dirty Little Secret

It's no surprise that, as a member of Congress, Portman carried George W. Bush's water. He's always been a loyal Bushie, even before joining George W. Bush's Cabinet, and even as he tried to sweep Bush under the rug to his constituents:

Very close to President George W. Bush, he acted as the liaison between Congressional Republicans and the White House during the first four years of the Bush administration. ...

Portman's hometown paper described him as having "two personas: the well-connected Congressman who would surface on cable news channels as a 'talking head' for the Bush led agenda and another as the politician who drove himself from one small town pancake breakfast or Kiwanis luncheon to another in a district stretching 100 miles plus."

Rob Portman is such a loyal Republican that he even comes with ready-made ties to corrupt Republican fundraiser Jack Abramoff:

Former Congressman Rob Portman, R-Ohio, got $4,000 from two tribes [that were clients of Abramoff's]. The contributions were made to America's Majority Trust, the leadership PAC that Portman formed before he left Congress to join the Bush cabinet as U.S. trade representative.

Portman will even complicitly support the racist undertones of fellow far-right conservatives:

John McCain supporter and Ohio talk-radio host Bill Cunningham made headlines yesterday for repeatedly referring to Barack Obama using his middle name, Hussein, and disparaging the candidate as a terrorist sympathizer in introductory remarks at a McCain rally. But it was former Ohio congressman and former Bush administration official Rob Portman who really had his "macaca" moment yesterday by telling the crowd that Cunningham is an "extremely important" part of McCain's presidential campaign and not condemning those types of remarks, as McCain himself did in remarks following his speech.

Portman, who has his sights set on a leading role in national politics and who has been rumored as a possible running mate for McCain, instead praised Cunningham for his flagrant racism: "Willie, you're out of control again. So, what else is new? But we love him. But I've got to tell you, Bill Cunningham lending his voice to this campaign is extremely important."

Rob Portman: "A Bush Guy"

George W. Bush had few cheerleaders during his eight years as President who were more loyal than Rob Portman. As WaPo's Chris Cillizza put it:

A Bush Guy

Portman has spent his entire career in the orbit of the Bush family -- not exactly a sterling credential in this political environment.

Portman's ties to the Bush family go all the way back to then Vice President George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign on which Portman worked before joining the White House general counsel's staff after Bush's victory.

His connections carried over to George W. Bush as Portman became chief liaison between the Bush campaign -- and eventually the Bush White House -- and Capitol Hill. Of Bush, he told the New York Times in 2003: ''He has a clear sense of what makes this country great. It makes it worthwhile being here to be with someone who has that passion.'

The Associated Press put it even more succinctly:

For an administration that cherishes loyalty, it's difficult to find a more faithful supporter than Rob Portman

Portman was loyal to not just Bush the Man and Bush the President, but he was also a key player for Bush the Candidate:

When Republicans needed someone to play the role of Joe Lieberman in debate practice sessions with Dick Cheney in 2000, they turned to Rob Portman, a young House member from the Cincinnati area who had worked for the first President Bush. Four years later, when they needed a John Edwards stand-in, they hit up Portman up. (By then, he was one of the George W. Bush administration's chief liaisons in Congress and a key player in Bush's reelection campaign in Ohio.)

Portman is inextricably tied to George W. Bush's record, especially Bush's economic record in Ohio. So I wonder how often Portman will talk about George W. Bush's "political courage and leadership" or his "passion" and his "clear sense of what makes this country great" while on the Senate campaign trail. Probably not often, if Public Policy Polling's analysis is accurate:

We asked folks on the poll whether they thought George W. Bush or Barack Obama would prove to be a better President. Among those who said Bush would end up being better 54% said they had a favorable opinion of Portman, compared to 7% who said they viewed him unfavorably. 39% had no opinion yet.

Among the respondents who said Obama would prove to be a better President the perceptions of Portman were a lot different, with 10% of those voters holding a positive impression of Portman but 37% having a dim view of him. 52% had no opinion.

The Ohio Democratic Party or Ohio's labor unions should follow through on a suggestion I made last week:

Can I suggest that, before George W. Bush becomes too distant a memory, the Ohio Democratic Party should print up some simple "Rob Portman = George W. Bush" bumper stickers and circulate them. Cement that message early.