An unlikely pair has taken CPAC by storm — everywhere you look, people are saying nice things about George Bush and Dick Cheney. The return of Bush and Cheney to Republican good graces is the strongest evidence yet that conservatives are ready to come out of the shadows in the wake of their monumental defeat in 2008.
It wasn’t long ago that Republicans, and especially conservatives, were among the last people you’d hear mentioning Bush at all, let alone in a positive light. At CPAC today, it’s like those days of shockingly low poll numbers and staggering midterm defeats at the polls never happened. Mitt Romney praised Bush when it was his chance to take the podium. A surprise appearance by Cheney brought the house down.
These are the men who were pushed to side the last time the GOP had a national convention. But today, Bush-Cheney is back.“When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush,” Romney said in a campaign-style speech this afternoon. “I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly.”
Romney said that Bush deserves praise for his leadership after 9/11, when he said Bush ” pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack,” and for the passage of No Child Left Behind. Romney said Bush will be remembered for attacking the Taliban and waging “war on the Jihadists.” (Notably absent was a mention of the war in Iraq.)
The crowd didn’t just offer polite applause to these remarks, it cheered loudly (National Journal‘s Erin McPike explores more instances of the Bush resurgence in Romney’s speech here). The enthusiasm from the CPACers and Romney over Bush was a surprise. At the Republican National Convention in 2008, Bush didn’t even show up to make a speech in person (at the time, the White House said he couldn’t make it because Bush was preparing for the aftermath of a hurricane bearing down the Gulf Coast.). Bush appeared by video, to polite applause.
Dick Cheney didn’t even go that far. In the political climate of the time, Cheney was kept far away from the spotlight. He wasn’t someone Republicans would bring up in polite conversation. But in the year since Obama was sworn in as president, Cheney has rebuilt his reputation among conservatives and emerged as the embodiment of the right’s national security position. When Cheney took the stage at CPAC this morning, there were throngs of cheering fans to greet him.
The Cheney love goes beyond his role as a crowd pleaser at CPAC. One group here is urging CPACers to write Cheney in on this year’s presidential straw poll ballot, seen as an important step toward winning the GOP nomination for president. Cheney addressed the call in his surprise speech today as the crowd chanted “Cheney 2012.”
“A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again,” Cheney said. “But I’m not a-gonna do it.”
But if CPAC is to be believed, it’s likely Cheney and Bush will be part of the conservative GOP message moving ahead.