On Wednesday, political reporters jumped on Mitt Romney's statement that it was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, who saved the economy in 2008. Why? Because Republican candidates usually do their best to avoid talk of the most recent two-term Republican president altogether. According to Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller, Romney said at town hall in Maryland:
I keep hearing the president say he's responsible for keeping the country out of a Great Depression... No, no, no, that was President George W. Bush and [then-Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson.
Great, so a Republican candidate credits a Republican for a job well done. (The two are pictured together above at a 2002 fundraiser.) No big deal, right? And yet, we noted recently that Santorum and Romney had sparred over Romney's criticism that Santorum was too close to that profligate spender named W. The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve wistfully yearned for, "the simpler, happier days when a Bush photo-op was something the candidates for the Republican nomination would rush to, not run screaming away from." As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in January:
They seldom mention Bush positively. They seldom mention Bush negatively. They also never mention the Bush before Bush — the other slice of bread in the Clinton sandwich — and have thus turned the father and the son almost wholly into ghosts.
So what's behind this? Most obviously, Jeb Bush, George. W. Bush's brother, endorsed Romney earlier in the day, and that is a really big get, perhaps even signalling the beginning of the end of the primary. That brings us to the second possibility, that Romney's feeling more comfortable after his big win in Illinois, so comfortable he's not afraid of speaking favorably of big-spender initiatives like TARP, the central part of Bush's efforts to stem the financial crisis. At any rate, welcome back to the public discourse, President Bush. Did you miss us?