After months of campaigning without too many mentions of his name, the nation's 43rd president re-entered the conversation Tuesday night. Governor Mitt Romney was asked during the second presidential debate how his policies differed from those of former president George W. Bush. Governor Romney's initial hesitation and subsequent attempt to answer a previous question was immediately seized upon by a seemingly gleeful President Obama who crowed from his stool, "I don't think so, Candy!"
While Romney went on to make an attempt to bat the question away, noting that he and the former president are "different people and these are different times," Obama was determined not to let him escape unharmed.
After hammering Romney for having the same economic policies as Obama's Oval Office predecessor, the president painted a picture of the GOP nominee as someone much more radical than the compassionate conservative Texan when it came to Medicare, immigration and women's issues. "There are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they're not on economic policy." Rather, President Obama argued, the governor is in a "more extreme place when it comes to social policy."
Calling the president's handling of the question "deft," The Huffington Post's Sam Stein said he couldn't remember a single other instance this election cycle in which the legacy of President George W. Bush had been brought into such clear focus.
Of course this is largely by design, he argued. "Mitt Romney obviously doesn't want to have that linger over his candidacy and Obama has tried to avoid the notion that he's blaming his problems on his predecessor."
The New York Times' Mark Leibovich agreed. "The silence around George W. Bush has been fairly glaring at this point. I don't think Mitt Romney's answer was terribly harmful or unharmful last night, but I do think Obama hit that pretty well."
It's likely that the shadow of Bush may loom even larger during next week's foreign policy debate in Boca Raton next week.