FOR real, brave fiscal responsibility, Republicans should refer to and lionize the 41st president, the other George Bush. Much of his record, including his decision to exit Iraq after removing Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, shimmers in retrospect.

At great political cost, he allowed a tax increase appropriate to the fiscal circumstances. More than a few economists believe that it set the stage for the boom of the Clinton years. But 41’s budgetary approach is less likely to draw attention from present-day Republicans than 43’s. It runs counter to the party’s anti-tax obsessions. It’s anathema.

Can you even imagine one of the candidates crowing about his likeness to 41? To any sane audience and at any healthy national moment, that would be a major point in the candidate’s favor. The Romney who governed Massachusetts really does resemble him. Like 41, he’s a moneyed moderate not intrinsically interested in messy social issues.

But last month, when 41 came close to endorsing Romney in remarks to a Texas reporter, neither Romney nor his aides made a particularly big deal of it. The party they inhabit has taken an emphatic rightward lurch since 41’s days.