A few weeks back, I wrote in Newsweek that Republicans were treating George W. Bush’s tenure “like a bender from which the party is still hung over.”Yes, he was president of the United States for eight years, but Mitt Romney and the other GOP candidates had practically airbrushed him out of the picture. They barely mentioned 43, and when they did it was usually to criticize him over spending and bailouts—because, former spokesman Ari Fleischer told me, “they don’t want to deal with Democratic attacks in the fall for having said something praiseworthy about President Bush.”That may explain why Bush’s endorsement Tuesday—if you can call it that—consisted of all of four words, and the Romney campaign barely cleared its throat in accepting his backing.Here’s the sum total:“I’m for Mitt Romney,” Bush told ABC News this morning as the doors of an elevator closed on him, after he gave a speech on human rights a block from his old home — the White House.Elevator doors closing. Like in a B-movie comedy.So that’s it? Not even a measly photo op?A Romney spokeswoman told the New York Observer: “We’re proud to have the president’s support, but he made clear when he left office that he was not going to engage in political campaigns and we have no reason to believe that is going to change.”
What about the convention? Will Bush be ushered in through a back door?Look, it’s not hard to decipher what’s going on here. Bush left office on Jan. 20, 2009 as an extremely unpopular figure. Polls show that more people blame him than Obama for the decrepit state of the economy. Romney wants to run against Obama’s record, not defend W’s.At the same time, the Obama campaign keeps driving home how Romney wants to take the country “backwards,” meaning to the bad old Bush years. So keeping the former president out of the spotlight won’t be as easy as stepping inside a closing elevator.