This is incredible: According to the most recent Bloomberg national poll, President George W. Bush—the man whose administration left us with two wars, crushing debt, a broken economy, and a tattered reputation—is more popular than Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Bush receives a favorable rating from 46 percent of those surveyed, and an unfavorable rating from 49 percent. By contrast, Romney receives a 43 percent favorable rating, and a 50 percent unfavorable. This makes Bush more popular than Vice President Joe Biden (42–45) and the Republican Party as a whole (41–46).
Two observations: First, if this result is accurate—and given Mitt Romney’s low favorability ratings across polls, there’s no reason to think it isn’t—then it’s partly a reflection of current conditions. The economy is worse now than it was at any point during the Bush administration. Even if Bush bears plenty of responsibility for the economic crisis, voters still look to the past as a better time, because in a narrow sense, it was. Still, this is a remarkable result. In the final month of his presidency, Bush's job approval averaged 30.5 percent and his disapproval averaged 64 percent. His favorability wasn't much better—in a Gallup poll taken before Obama took office, Bush earned 40 percent approval and 59 percent disapproval. Bush left in 2009 as one of the most unpopular men to ever occupy the Oval Office.
Second, I think this speaks to a huge failing of the Democratic Party. Bush is easily the worst president of the post-war era; Jimmy Carter was ineffectual, but over the course of his eight years, Bush did lasting damage our economy and our institutions. It’s not “forward-looking,” but Democrats—including President Obama—should have devoted a fair amount of rhetoric to reminding Americans of what came before. They should have hammered home how Bush, with the backing of the Republican Party, squandered American promise and prestige. In the same way that Carter was synonymous with liberalism for more than a decade, Bush should mean “conservatism” for the majority of Americans. And given the degree to which the GOP refuses to forge a path away from Bush-era policies, it would have been well-deserved.
Bush is rehabilitating his image. That's a sign of how ineffectual Democrats have been in casting the former president as a representative of the Republican Party and its governing philosophy.