"I'm for Mitt Romney," former President George W. Bush said to an ABC News reporter as the elevator doors closed. It was the first time he had publicly said he endorsed the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
But don't look for the former president to campaign for Romney this year. Why? Two words: Bush recession. Americans don't need to be reminded that when Bush entered office the U.S. government was operating at a surplus. However, two costly wars, a series of unfunded tax cuts, and an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit program turned a surplus into a burgeoning deficit. Meanwhile, lax oversight of the mortgage and financial sectors resulted in increased personal debt. And then the bubble burst in 2007. This is not a record the Romney campaign wants to be associated with.
Instead, Romney wants to make November's election a referendum on President Barack Obama. The U.S. economy has struggled to recover from the Great Recession, which was unprecedented in its severity. Since the president was elected the economy has only added back about half of the jobs that were lost. The problem has been compounded by the loss of nearly a half million government jobs at all levels due to budget cuts.
The state of the U.S. economy will likely be the most important factor in the outcome of the presidential election. And the American economy will continue to be affected by growing economic problems in Europe, and a slowdown in the growth of China's economy. Uncertainty at home and abroad, and the unprecedented nature of the Great Recession have severely hampered recovery.
This has provided a huge opening for Romney, who has "Etch A Sketched" the Bush recession into the Obama failure. "The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama for nearly four years, much of that time with Congress controlled by his own party," Romney said to a couple hundred supporters in Iowa Tuesday. "And rather than put out the spending fire, he has fed the fire. He has spent more and borrowed more." He concluded, "This is not just bad economics, this is morally wrong and we must stop it."
It remains unclear exactly what Romney will do to significantly reduce unemployment and the deficit. Some of the proposals he has mentioned or embraced will in fact only add to the long-term deficit -- for instance, more tax cuts. He also wants less government regulation. Sounds a lot like George W. Bush.
But Romney believes he does not have to be specific, he only has to attack his opponent -- a tactic that worked time and again during the brutal Republican primary. He managed to overcome his many flip-flops (i.e. abortion), his many distortions, his many flubs ("I like being able to fire people"), his inability to personally connect with voters, and his failure to win over many conservatives ("I'm severely conservative!"). The Obama campaign has begun to forcefully respond, first with an attack ad that painted Romney as "job destroyer" at Bain Capital. They will also remind voters that Romney equals Bush.
For the next six months Americans will experience the most expensive, thanks to Citizens United, and most negative presidential campaign ever waged in this country. No doubt, many will think, to paraphrase Romney, this is not just bad politics, this is morally wrong. But nothing will stop it.