Bruce Bartlett

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is trying the hardest to appear to be another Reagan. But while Reagan had been deeply involved in the conservative movement for many years before becoming president, Romney comes across as a Johnny-come-lately conservative who didn't govern as a one and adopts conservative positions only because he has to in order to win the nomination.

This view of Romney may be unfair, but it is widely held. He is probably the candidate with the most to gain by becoming the anti-Bush. It would be a simple matter to lay out all of Bush's anti-conservative policies, starting with immigration. Romney can then go on to lambaste the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare drug giveaway, campaign finance reform, the failure to veto pork-laden spending bills and so on. Such a strategy could give Romney the credibility that he has been lacking and make him the true heir to Reagan.

Former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani is really just a one-issue candidate. We are supposed to believe that because he did an admirable job on 9-11 that this alone qualifies him to be president. I don't really see this as being enough, but I'm not sure he has much more to offer. I think the vast bulk of his support comes from those Republicans who simply think he has the best chance of winning the general election. This support will vanish if the polls show another candidate with a better chance.

That candidate could be former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who like Reagan, also had a long career in Hollywood. Thompson looks and sounds the part, which is why he is leading some polls despite not even being an official candidate. If he were to hire some of Reagan's speechwriters and articulate a clear Reaganite vision for the future that explicitly repudiates Bush's deviations from conservative principles, Thompson could go all the way.

Sooner or later, Republicans are going to have to distance themselves from the failure-ridden Bush presidency if they hope to win next year. Whichever candidate does the best job of being the anti-Bush may have the best chance of winning it all.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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