October 25, 2012
Mitt Romney's running as far as he can from George W. Bush.
In all three presidential debates, Romney's raced from the last Republican president's policies -- claiming he's got new ideas for foreign policy, the deficit and energy.
But for all of Romney's efforts to divorce himself from Bush, behind the scenes there's one critical way he's given the era a full embrace: its people.
Romney's brought on a cadre of Bush officials to serve as his senior policy advisers, lead his presidential transition effort and help him raise millions to fuel his run -- the pillars of his campaign and a potential administration.
"Really, no coach wants to send a team on the field with all rookies," said veteran Republican fundraiser and strategist Fred Malek, who believes it's important for Romney to distinguish himself from his predecessor. "And the best thing to have is a combination of people with great experience and a track record so long as the energy and new ideas that come from new people that have not yet come from deeply in the government. I think that's really what Romney is looking to do and how the team shapes up to me."
On foreign policy, where Romney clearly distinguished himself from Bush on Monday night, 17 of Romney's 24 special advisers and the vast majority of his issue co-chairs worked in the Bush administration. Some of them are big names, like former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and State Department vet Paula Dobriansky.
His transition team, which would staff up a potential administration, is run by Bush alum Michael Leavitt, former Health and Human Services secretary; Josh Bolton, Bush's chief of staff; Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president; and Emil Henry, who worked in Bush's Treasury Department, have also been in on the planning.
When it comes to raising money, Bush stalwarts are on board, including political operative Karl Rove, who has delivered personal briefings and fundraising appeals for the main super PAC supporting Romney.
For its part, the Romney campaign says that he makes his own political calculations.
"Mitt Romney has assembled a diverse group of highly respected policy thinkers," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul in an email. "He fields their opinions, evaluates them and ultimately makes his own decisions on policy."
But, that hasn't stopped President Barack Obama from trying hard to link Romney as having old, misguided thinking from the Bush era. At the debate in Boca Raton, Fla., Obama closed the evening by saying that Romney "wants to take us back to those policies, a foreign policy that's wrong and reckless."
Democrats believe linking Romney with Bush can be effective on the campaign trail.
"There is still a holdover that George Bush unnecessarily got us into war and then prolonged it, and that foreign policy combined with a really weak domestic policy sort of created the hole that we're in," said Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
Further, Rosen said that branding Romney with Bush is effective because he has "projected an old-fashioned view of the Soviet Union, of women, of education, of energy, and I think that continuing to tie him to sort of what are icons of the past helps Obama on his being a leader for the future."
But, the Romney campaign's strong ties to Bush are a strength, not a weakness, according to some Republican operatives.
"He's had a stellar presidency when it comes to foreign policy and he kept our country safe, free from terrorist attacks," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "I think its something the president and Republicans should be very proud of."
Romney isn't alone in looking to administration vets for advice on policy issues.
Republican operative Ron Bonjean pointed to President Barack Obama's use of former Clinton administration aides.
"Just like the advisers who worked for President Clinton that are helping Obama, it makes sense that people who used to work in the past administration would be lending their time and expertise to the campaign. They can be used as a great resource of information and many are respected for their policy acumen," Bonjean said.
President Barack Obama has staffed the highest levels of his administration and campaign with several former Clinton advisers, including senior campaign adviser David Axelrod, former director of the White House National Economic Council Larry Summers and, in the foreign policy arena, current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. And while Bush has been absent from the campaign trail, former President Bill Clinton has increasingly become a mainstay on the trail for Obama.
To be sure, Romney's brain trust includes several advisers from the private sector and longtime confidants, including Bob White, Ron Kaufman, Beth Myers and finance director Spencer Zwick.
And, trying to steer the conversation to his platform is natural, according to Romney supporters.
"It's time to look forward and not back, there is no question about that," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "As a matter of substance, it's true; as a matter of politics, it's got to be true."
Other key Romney advisers on domestic and international economic policies and other policy areas include some of the most influential members of Bush's team -- though they haven't always advocated the policies Romney is now pushing on the campaign trail.
Glenn Hubbard, who chaired Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003, is a top member of the Romney campaign's economic policy team. Currently the dean of Columbia Business School, Hubbard also advised the GOP candidate in 2008 and is widely considered one of the top candidates to be Treasury Secretary or the next Federal Reserve chairman in a Romney administration.
Hubbard, who has been an active spokesman to the media on behalf of the Romney campaign throughout the 2012 cycle, has at times expressed policy views that seem to be at odds with Romney's, including in the areas of carbon tax and mortgage refinancing. Hubbard declined to comment Monday evening about his future in a Romney administration.
Romney's advisory roll also includes Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University economist who chaired Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2006. Mankiw served as a top economic counsel to Romney's 2008 presidential bid and has been mentioned as a possible Romney pick to succeed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The head of Romney's national security transition team -- Robert Zoellick -- was also one of the main architects of George W. Bush's international economic policies. Zoellick served as U.S. Trade Representative from 2001 to 2005, when he negotiated a series of free trade deals, and then as deputy secretary of State from 2005 to 2006.
In both cases, Zoellick was a key voice on the U.S.-China economic relationship and advocated a pragmatic approach -- different from Romney's current hard line on China's currency manipulation. The announcement that Zoellick would head Romney's security transition team this past summer drew jeers from neoconservatives.
Bush appointed Zoellick to be president of the World Bank in 2007, a position he served in until earlier this year. Zoellick is considered a possible pick for Treasury secretary or secretary of State.
Former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, another economic adviser to the Romney campaign, served as the plains states regional chairman for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. A former member of the secretary of Defense's Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, Weber could fill a Defense Department leadership spot under a Romney administration, Defense News reported last month.
Among the cadre of officials that advise Romney on energy are James Connaughton, who served as the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Bush, and Jeff Holmstead, who was an assistant administrator at the EPA under Bush from 2001 to 2005. Lobbyists say that both men are at the top of the list to head the EPA in a Romney administration.
The Romney campaign has also populated its energy and environment transition teams with former Bushies. Kevin Kolevar, who served as an assistant secretary at the Energy Department under Bush, is leading what the campaign has dubbed its "energy readiness" team. Former Bush EPA General Counsel Ann Klee and Michael Catanzaro, a former Bush EPA staffer, are heading up the campaign's environment transition team..
Romney is also getting plenty of input from outside the Bush-era energy world, including from Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm and former Sen. Jim Talent, two of his top energy advisers.
Senior policymakers from Bush's Department of Transportation also are advising Romney, including Tyler Duvall, who was for a time the DOT's top policymaker; Jim Ray, who was counsel at both DOT and the Office of Management and Budget; Jeff Rosen, whose long resume includes being counsel for DOT and a stint at OMB as well as decades in the private sector; and Robyn Boerstling, who also worked at DOT's policy shop and is now at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Holtz-Eakin described the number of former public servants continuing to stay involved in the political discussion as "a fact of life, there are a finite number of conservative policy analysts."
Former Bush administration official Matt Schlapp agreed.
"Forty-three had to distinguish himself from his father, from the team of advisers that his father had," Schlapp said. "When you do that you shouldn't assume that it is done out of some kind of acrimony. ... I don't see Romney trying to take shots at the former president, I more see it as here's how I would do things differently."
MJ Lee, Patrick Reis, Andrew Restuccia, Joseph J. Schatz, Elizabeth Wasserman and Kathryn A. Wolfe contributed to this report.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 1:35 p.m. on October 25, 2012.
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