This is not exactly a shattering development for a Republican Party that is hoping to put its best face on display at next week’s convention in Tampa. Despite rallying around Bush for years, especially after the Sept. 11 strikes, the party hasn’t exactly clamored for input from the man who led the country for eight years.
“Why would people care?” Alberto Gonzales said in response to questions about what Bush had been up to. The former U.S. attorney general, who is now a law professor at Belmont University, said he last saw Bush at the dedication of his official portrait at the White House. At the end of the ceremony in May, Gonzales said, he found himself alone with Bush in the East Room, staring up at the painting. “What I recall was that he was very happy,” said Gonzales. “Very happy with the portrait, particularly the face.”
Bush has long said that he would leave it to history to judge his presidency. Yet he is aware that the current assessment of his term in office is less than favorable.
During an April news conference, he said he wished the “Bush tax cuts” were known by another name, because “if they were called somebody else’s tax cuts, they’d probably be less likely to be raised.”
Not every former president plays a role in his party’s nominating convention, but in Bush’s case, the political toxicity that he himself has acknowledged might explain his announced absence. (He appeared at the 2008 Republican convention via video feed.) It may also shed light on why his initial endorsement of Mitt Romney to be the Republican presidential candidate came from behind closing elevator doors, and why his congratulations on Rep. Paul Ryan’s selection as Romney’s running mate came in a news release.
The Romney campaign has kept its distance. Ryan has harshly criticized the Bush administration’s spending. On July 24, Bush and his wife visited Romney’s Boston headquarters — while the candidate was in Nevada. While there, Bush delivered a pep talk to the Romney campaign troops, yet Katie Cunningham, an assistant to Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s communications director, denied that Bush was, had been or would be there.
“No,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. (The campaign subsequently acknowledged the Bush visit.)
Bush, who declined comment through a spokesman, stays current politically: He keeps in touch with Karl Rove, was pleased with the selection of Ryan and is keen to discuss the election. Confidants describe him as immune from political slights.
“He is completely unfazed by any criticism,” e-mailed Mark McKinnon, a political consultant who spent time with the Bushes in Kennebunkport.