It didn't get a lot of attention when it happened, but former President George H. W. Bush recently tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his choice for the Republican presidential nomination.
The former president, who has largely been out of the limelight over the last 12 years, told the Houston Chronicle he thought "Romney is the best choice for us" because he was "not a bomb-thrower," which most reasonable people would understand to be a not-so-veiled shot at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Bush's dislike of Gingrich, who was in the room at Andrews Air Force Base when the tax hike was negotiated but who then opposed the deal, is well known. The former president and some of his key aides still regard Gingrich's behavior during the whole business as a betrayal and an act of disloyalty. But that does not completely explain the former president's preference for Romney.
The former president's advisors quickly pointed out that Bush's comments did not constitute an "official endorsement" but any conservative who thinks Romney is the best man to carry the flag forward into the fall campaign may now want to think twice. Though he is beloved as a former president, there are many on the right who remember how Bush's failure to keep his promise not to raise taxes s almost destroyed the modern GOP.
Back in 1988, when he was running far behind another former Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, in the race for president, Bush promised that, if elected, he would govern just like Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, he came up short—not only raising taxes but embarking on a regulatory assault on the U.S. economy that helped to create a downturn late in his first and only term. In short order he proved that he was no conservative, as those who were suspicious of him from the start had long maintained.
Romney too has been the subject of conservative suspicions. His one term as governor of Massachusetts was not exactly a triumph of limited government. His signature accomplishment, the rewriting of the state's healthcare laws and the imposition of a universal mandate, is seen by many as far too similar to Obamacare for anyone to be comfortable. Getting Bush 41's approval for his presidential bid will only help reinforce those suspicions, especially as the all-important Iowa caucuses draw near.