As awful as Mitt Romney's trip to the UK has been -- and it really has been cover-your-eyes terrible -- arguably the comments with the most domestic salience came last night, when the Republican candidate talked to NBC News' Brian Williams.
The interview covered quite a bit of ground, but towards the end, the anchor wrapped up by asking how Romney's economic agenda "would be different from what George W. Bush tried to push through." Igor Volsky published the entire response, but the candidate simply ignored the question and talked about his economic priorities: drilling, trade, deficit reduction, education, and low taxes. He concluded, "My policies are very different than anything you've seen in the past."
In other words, Romney's vision now is the same as his vision in 2008, which was the same as George W. Bush's vision during his two terms in office. How would Romney "be different"? He wouldn't. By dodging Williams' question, the candidate simply reinforced the underlying point.
Jon Chait noticed that Romney didn't even dodge the question the way he's supposed to dodge the question.
[T]he usual Republican answer here, on how their approach will succeed where Bush's failed, is to shout, spending! Romney promises to cut it. Bush also promised to cut it, but didn't. I don't think this really answers the main objection -- lower spending may help the long-term budget picture, but the policies Republicans most directly associate with economic growth are taxes, regulation, and energy. And here Romney really is proposing the exact same policies as Bush.
But the surprising thing is that Romney didn't even have that, or any other handy answer to the question. This is a pretty bad political messaging slip-up, but it also indicates a larger problem: Republicans haven't really internalized the degree to which Bush's policies truly failed to produce strong economic growth. They blame him for letting spending grow too high, and they recognize that the crash was a bad thing, but conservative rhetoric almost uniformly fails to acknowledge that even pre-crash growth under Bush was absolutely miserable.
I don't seriously expect Romney to come up with a radically different vision that abandons GOP orthodoxy altogether, but I do expect him to at least appreciate the basic pillars of reality.
And in this case, he intends to do what Bush did, only make those policies more extreme. Even the RNC conceded a Romney presidency would be the same as Bush's presidency "just updated."
Romney can try to defend this obvious truth, or he can try to argue that repeating failure might lead to a different result this time, but he shouldn't characterize warmed over Bush/Cheney policies "as very different than anything you've seen in the past."
Expect to hear more about this on tonight's show.