The Romney campaign acknowledges that the crisis began before Obama took office, but it has next to nothing to say about what Bush-era Republicans got wrong. The result is that Romney appears to be saying that everything was going swimmingly until Obama came along. That impression lends credence to Obama’s attempt to portray Romney as running for Bush’s third term. Romney’s silence about the errors of the Bush years is, on the other hand, understandable, since many Republicans continue to hold Bush in high esteem as a good man who tried to do a lot of good things. Since most Americans consider Bush a failure, Romney cannot embrace him either. So Bush has been an awkward non-presence in the campaign: the man who was not there.
Instead of an explicit repudiation or an embrace, Romney needs to move beyond the controversies of the Bush era. To do that, he has to alter his critique of Obama. What Romney should say is that our country has problems that have been building since long before Obama took office, and that what’s wrong with Obama is that he has either left them unaddressed or made them worse. The country’s looming debt crisis, its dysfunctional health-care system, and its irrational tax code are three of them. Romney will take on those challenges head-on. Those are the ideas he has been running on, after all.