If Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) overcomes his objections and agrees to join Mitt Romney's 2012 ticket, I have a strong hunch this quote will become one of the more important tidbits of the year.
"George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job as president over eight years."
In some Republican circles, many on the right choose to explain the spectacular failures of the Bush/Cheney era by saying the former president wasn't really a conservative, so his fiascos shouldn't be held against the conservative movement. After all, they argue, he was a liberal on spending, a moderate on immigration and education, a big-government advocate on entitlements like Medicare, and even a supporter of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Sure, Bush failed, the argument goes, but only because he wasn't a real conservative.
Indeed, go back and look at the transcripts from the Republican presidential candidates debates over the last year -- when Bush's name came up, it was only to criticize his breaks with party orthodoxy on everything from deficits to No Child Left Behind to Medicare Part D.
But while that was the standard line for quite a while, the tide appears to have turned. Rubio thinks Bush did "a fantastic job"; the Republican National Committee believes the party's agenda in 2013 will simply be a warmed over version of Bush's policies; and Romney has surrounded himself with Bush's former aides and advisors.
To reiterate a point from the other day, this is exactly what Democrats wanted to hear. For Dems, one of the principal goals of 2012 is to persuade American voters not to go backwards. Bush/Cheney left all kinds of crises for Obama/Biden to clean up, and Democrats will urge the electorate not to return to the failures of the recent past.
Romney, Rubio, and the RNC are making Democrats' job easier.
I'm also left thinking about this in historical terms. In 1936, were Republicans running around telling voters that Hoover did "a fantastic job" and vowing to bring back his policy agenda? If not, why are Republicans praising Bush now?
Rubio's bizarre praise notwithstanding, Bush was one of America's worst presidents. He inherited peace and prosperity, along with a massive budget surplus and a strong national standing around the world. Over the course of eight years, Bush proceeded to have a reverse Midas touch, ruining practically everything he touched. His two terms and the events therein are, in retrospect, a sort of nightmare we're still struggling to overcome.
To think he did "a fantastic job" is to be out of touch with reality in borderline frightening ways.
Postscript: Follow up question for Romney, who doesn't return my calls: "Marco Rubio thinks George W. Bush did a fantastic job as president. Do you agree?"