Mr. Romney, in response to a question about the bank bailout, said he felt that President George W. Bush and his treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, had taken the correct steps in authorizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP.
“In that circumstance, President Bush and Hank Paulson said, ‘We’ve got to do something to show we’re not going to let the whole system go out of business,’” Mr. Romney said. “I think they were right. I know some people disagree with me. I think they were right to do that. They kept – I keep hearing the president say that he’s responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression. No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and Hank Paulson.”
On the substance, Romney’s line on TARP is at least somewhat defensible. Plenty of credible voices in both parties can make a compelling case that the rescue of the financial industry in 2008 prevented the Great Recession from becoming an even more catastrophic global disaster.
But the politics of yesterday’s comment are far more interesting. In this case, Romney not only endorsed the wildly-unpopular TARP bailout – the last time I checked, the Republican base isn’t fond of the legislation – he also reminded voters who signed the wildly-unpopular TARP bailout.
As Jon Chait noted, “[T]he Wall Street bailout is actually a huge political liability for Obama because it’s incredibly unpopular and most Americans think Obama, not Bush, signed it. So having Romney run around reminding people that Bush bailed out Wall Street is actually Obama’s prayer answered.”
But there’s even more to this. Romney’s comment raises a point I don’t remember hearing him make before: pivoting from the absurd “Obama made things worse” talking point, Romney now wants to talk about who deserves credit for making things better – and he wants to drag George W. Bush into the picture.
I don’t imagine Romney wants my advice, but this is an odd strategy. Not only is it based on a bogus premise – Obama’s policies really did, as a point of fact, help turn the economy around – but it’s also based on the premise that the economy is getting stronger on Obama’s watch.
Does Romney really want to spend 2012 debating who deserves credit for an economic recovery, with the GOP nominee siding with Bush? He’d be better off talking about Etch A Sketches.