Political Animal


October 03, 2012 12:20 PM Can Romney Call Bush a Liberal?

By Ed Kilgore

I suggested yesterday that the debate question Mitt Romney really can’t convincingly answer is: ““Governor Romney, how exactly do your economic policies differ from those of George W. Bush?”

At Politico today, Jonathan Martin devotes an article to Mitt’s “George W. Bush problem,” and seems to think it’s easily solvable so long as Romney is willing to criticize a fellow-Republican. Here’s the premise Martin sets up:

Polling suggests that such a strategy of “triangulation,” as it was termed when Bill Clinton sought to separate himself from his own party and the opposition, isn’t an option but a necessity: 62 percent of self-described moderates said that they blamed Bush and the Republicans for the country’s economic troubles while just 30 percent of the same voters faulted Obama and the Democrats, according to a CNN poll last month.

But then watch the sleight-of-hand in the very next sentence:

Indicting both parties for America’s fiscal problems would help Romney detach himself from Bush and buy a measure of credibility with voters fed up with Washington. And given the remorse many conservatives have about the spending that took place under the last administration and the GOP base’s immense desire to oust Obama, it seems unlikely that Romney would lose many Republican loyalists in the course of trying to appeal to swing voters.

Notice that “economic problems” suddenly became “fiscal problems”? Sure, Romney is on very safe ground with conservatives if he faults W. for too much spending; that’s the critique they’ve all implicitly and often explicitly made as the prime example of how Bush “betrayed conservative principles.” But that’s only a convincing “separation” from Bush if you buy the idea that the cause of the economic disaster was too much federal spending. And while Americans as a whole have shown themselves lukewarm towards the once-bipartisan proposition that Keynesian fiscal stimulus is the right policy to pursue during a recession, there’s little evidence that outside the Republican base there’s much support for the claim that fiscal austerity is the right answer, either, or that budget deficits somehow “caused” the Great Recession.

Martin goes on to quote a bunch of conservatives happily agreeing with the idea that Mitt should blast Bush (and perhaps the “Republican establishment”) for complicity in building up the Godless Welfare State. Trouble is, the Godless Welfare State—including W.’s distinctive contribution, the Medicare prescription drug benefit—is mighty popular, as Republicans themselves acknowledge by all their demagoguing on Obama’s alleged “Medicare cuts.”

Sorry, but I don’t think Mitt can “separate himself” from W.’s “economic policies” just by saying he’d be tougher on domestic spending. There are tax policies and specific budget priorities and banking policies and regulatory policies that compose most of what are generally considered to represent “economic policy.” And Jon Chait is absolutely right in pointing this out today: Republican economic policies, most notably the obsession with top-end and corporate tax cuts, just aren’t popular. A meaner, more right-wing version of Bushonomics isn’t going to change that.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on October 03, 2012 12:26 PM:

    The 'slight of hand' by Jonathan Martin is the same 'slight of hand' of not only Politico itself, but the entire Repiglican establishment.

    It's what they do.

  • Danton on October 03, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Shouldn't that be "sleight of hand"?

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2012 12:36 PM:

    The problem outside the Republican base is most people agree that our fiscal house won't be fixed without combined spending cuts and tax increases. Additional tax cuts are exactly backward if you are talking about putting America's fiscal house in order. They are also wrong if you are talking about putting America's economy back on a high speed track. The don't do a thing for the people who are already displaced by automation and outsourcing.

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2012 12:40 PM:

    Didn't Clinton use triangulation to attain legislative goals? Wasn't the idea that "independents" would love his show of independence from Democratic dogma if he didn't stray too far. He didn't really use the technique to shore up his base.

  • gregor on October 03, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Frenetically find ways to put lipstick on a pig.

    One would think that by this time, they could have at least put lipstick, and had started working on the still odious task of making the lipstick look natural.

  • c u n d gulag on October 03, 2012 1:26 PM:

    If Mitt'sforeign and domestic policies were anything but W II, 'Deficit and War Boogaloo On Steroids,' he might be able to get some seperation.

    But his policies are just that - doubling down on what got us in this mess in the first place: Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Laffer, Trickle-down, Wars, Occupations, and "The Do Harm Congress" when Obama got elected.

  • Joe Friday on October 03, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Yes, Chimpy Bush spent on two wars that weren't paid for and on more Corporate Welfare in the form of a drug program for the pharmaceutical corporations that wasn't paid for.

    But that was a DISTANT SECOND cause of our current massive federal deficits compared to the overwhelming cause of the massive tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate.

    This is why Ryan/Romney are peddling the "spending" issue so hard.

  • Ryan Harris on October 03, 2012 6:41 PM:

    Lets not forget that when and if Romeny goes down that road and criticizes the spending of the Bush administration, his vice president has to be considered equally damned by his votes for all that pesky spending!