Bush 41 backs Romney for president, admits he’s not Gingrich’s ‘biggest advocate’
Less than two weeks before Iowa Republicans make their crucial caucus choices on the night of Jan. 3, George H.W. Bush offered words of support, if not an official endorsement, to an old friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“I think Romney is the best choice for us,” former President Bush told the Houston Chronicle this week. “I like Perry, but he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; he’s not surging forward.”
Bush said he had known Romney for many years and also knew his father, George Romney, a former Republican governor of Michigan who ran for president in 1968.
Bush said he supported Romney because of his “stability, experience, principles. He’s a fine person,” he said. “I just think he’s mature and reasonable - not a bomb-thrower.”
Bush denied that the latter label implied that the candidate field includes any bomb-throwers.
“I’ve got to be a little careful, because I like Perry; he’s our governor,” he said.
Joe Householder, a Houston-based political consultant, said that with his not-an-endorsement statements, the former president probably was drawing a distinction for voters around the country who may not be aware of the historic antipathy between the Bush and Perry camps. In last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, with Perry seeking a history-making third term as governor, the Bushes endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
“Probably the unspoken assumption out there is that the Texan would support a Texan,” Householder said. “But it’s not really surprising, given the Bush-Perry relationship, that he wouldn’t go for the governor. Plus, he’s had a long relationship with Romney.”
Bush’s words of encouragement for the former Massachusetts governor also come at a time when the party establishment - of which Bush is the elder statesman - seems to be increasingly alarmed about the possibility that former Speaker Newt Gingrich might get the nomination.
Bush, as Householder noted, “still has significant influence among that sector of the party.”
Choosing his words carefully, the former president said he knew Gingrich relatively well. “I’m not his biggest advocate,” he said.
“I had a conflict with him at one point,” Bush recalled, alluding to the crucial moment in 1990 when a recession drove him to renege on his “no new taxes” pledge. He needed a bipartisan group of party leaders, including then-House Whip Gingrich, to stand with him.
“He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders,” Bush recalled. “The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, ‘Where’s Gingrich?’ Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing.
“He told me one time later on, he said, ‘This is the most difficult thing I ever had to do.’ I said, ‘I didn’t like it much myself, Newt.’”
“For the Republican elite, Gingrich is a nightmare scenario,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “Either he becomes president, which is unlikely, or he hands four more years to Obama.”