* Former Bush administration officials joined Romney team
* Hasn't stopped Romney from criticizing some Bush policies
* Obama campaign signals it would make issue of Romney-Bush
By Samuel P. Jacobs
WASHINGTON, March 15 In November 2010,
supporters of George W. Bush gathered on a college campus in
Dallas, Texas, to mark the groundbreaking of Bush's presidential
Among those in the invitation-only crowd - which included
former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, a former Colombian president and singer Wayne
Newton - was Mitt Romney.
Romney's visit to Dallas to celebrate the former Republican
president, one who left office historically unpopular, was a
hint of how he would build his campaign to be the next
Republican president: with the Bush crowd surrounding him.
From policy advisers to campaign strategists, more than two
dozen veterans of the Bush administration have flocked to
Their key roles contrast with Romney's rhetoric on the
stump. The former Massachusetts governor has tried to cast
himself as a Washington "outsider," largely avoided mentioning
Bush's tenure and made a point of criticizing several programs
at the heart of Bush's legacy.
Among Romney's favorite targets: the No Child Left Behind
program, which ties schools' federal funding to assessment
testing of students. Bush lauded it as a breakthrough to improve
student achievement; Romney and many of the conservative voters
he is courting say it gives the federal government too much
authority in local school systems.
Some Bush loyalists are rankled by such attacks on their old
boss, particularly from another Republican.
"I think a lot of the attacks on President Bush are
gratuitous and disingenuous, and frankly a lot of them are
flat-out wrong," said Tony Fratto, a former Bush press aide who
is now a Washington, D.C., consultant.
But most of those joining Romney's team seem to
have a more pragmatic view. Some note that Romney has supported
measures such as No Child Left Behind in the past, and has taken
a more conservative posture in this campaign.
Privately, they believe that however anti-Bush the chatter
gets during the campaign, Romney is the Republican most likely
to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6
election - and that a Romney presidency could have a look much
like Bush's presidency.
Romney's campaign is "a restoration of the Bush
establishment," said former Bush speechwriter Matt Lattimer, who
is not supporting Romney. Bush loyalists "all want to be back in
power again, and Romney's the best bet."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Romney "is
honored to have the advice and counsel of so many individuals
who have served at the highest levels of government. He fields
their opinions, evaluates them and ultimately makes his own
AWKWARD MOMENTS ON THE TRAIL
Several of the people who helped Bush win two terms in the
White House are guiding Romney's campaign.
Romney's chief political strategists, Russ Schriefer and
Stuart Stevens, are veterans of both Bush-Cheney campaigns.
Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden was a spokesman for the
Bush-Cheney effort in 2004, then was a spokesman for Bush's
Romney's economic advisers include Glenn Hubbard, architect
of the Bush-era tax cuts as chairman of the Council of Economic
Advisers and now dean of the Columbia University Graduate School
of Business. He's joined by Harvard's N. Gregory Mankiw, author
of a popular economics textbook and Bush's primary economic
adviser from 2003 to 2005.
Romney has named 24 "special advisers" in national security
and foreign policy, 16 of whom served in diplomatic or political
roles under Bush. They include Michael Chertoff, the former
homeland security chief, and Dan Senor, who was an
administration spokesman in Iraq.
On judicial issues, Romney is advised by at least three top
veterans of Bush's Justice Department.
Romney's education advisers include Margaret Spellings, who
was secretary of education under Bush and a chief advocate for
No Child Left Behind. Spellings has not commented on Romney's
opposition to the program.
Like Spellings, several Bush veterans are siding
with Romney even as he continues to essentially run against
chunks of Bush's record. On the campaign trail, that disconnect
has created some awkward moments.
In Detroit, Romney condemned the federal
government's $81 billion bailout of the auto industry, which was
initiated by the Bush administration.
In Florida, Romney dressed down rival Newt Gingrich because
the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker had supported a
prescription drug benefit for Medicare, the government health
insurance program for the elderly. The Bush administration
favored such a benefit.
And in Arizona, Romney criticized another Republican
candidate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, for
favoring No Child Left Behind and increases in the government's
debt ceiling that Bush also endorsed.
At one rally, Romney blasted Santorum's debt-ceiling vote
while standing beside Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who repeatedly
has voted for debt-ceiling increases while in the House and
Portman was Bush's budget chief from 2006 to 2007, a period
in which Bush also supported increasing the debt limit.
Romney's tough talk on illegal immigration appears to have
raised concerns in the Bush family itself.
In January, the New York Times reported that Jeb Bush, a
former Florida governor and a brother of the former president,
had urged Romney to tone down his message, fearing that Romney
risked alienating Hispanics, a growing voting bloc that the Bush
brothers have tried to attract to the Republican Party.
Although he is not happy with criticism of the Bush era by
other Republicans, Fratto is among the Bush veterans who praise
Romney for putting together a Bush-influenced team stacked with
people who have experience in Washington.
"You want people with experience and talent, and those guys
have all that," said Fratto. "They've been inside. They've
worked on real policy."
Obama's campaign already is signaling that if Romney wins
the Republican nomination, the presence of so many members of
the Bush-Cheney administration on Romney's team will be an issue
in the fall campaign.
Bush's approval rating, battered by an unpopular war in
Iraq, growing deficits and a troubled economy, was at 22 percent
when he left office, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll
in February 2009.
"It's no surprise that Mitt Romney's reckless foreign policy
and failed economic philosophy look familiar," said Obama
campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "He has surrounded himself with
the same people who already helped bring us these disastrous
'WE'RE OUT OF POLITICS'
George W. Bush has stayed mum on the Republican contest.
"We're out of politics, as George would say," former first
lady Laura Bush recently told an audience in Florida.
However, some of Romney's most enthusiastic cheerleaders
come from Bush's inner circle.
Rival campaigns complain that Karl Rove, Bush's lead
strategist, has turned his prominent media perch into a position
to attack Romney's challengers.
Last week, Bush's mother, Barbara, a former first lady,
called for a quick end to the bruising Republican primary battle
to improve Romney's chances of being elected in November.
Their enthusiasm for Romney may be rooted in the respect he
has shown Bush's administration in choosing his advisers, some
leading Republicans said.
As a leading contender for president, "you have the choice
of every adviser in the world," said Houston venture capitalist
Fred Zeidman, a Bush friend and Romney fundraiser.
Romney "picked the people who had been advising Bush and
raising money for Bush because I think they have been consistent
with the way he wants to run the country and what he believes."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Beech)