Ezra Klein notes what Romney didn’t say in his response when asked what his biggest differences with Bush were:
Notice what he didn’t say there. He didn’t say that Bush had gotten anything wrong before leaving office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. He didn’t say, “You’re right to be skeptical of Republicans, because we didn’t live up to your expectations last time.” He said, rather, “Have you heard about my five-point plan?”
What’s remarkable about Romney’s answer was that he didn’t even acknowledge or endorse the questioner’s main concern, which was that the Bush administration presided over major debacles that are still adversely affecting the U.S. The questioner was worried that Romney would repeat Bush’s errors, and he responded by rattling off a campaign agenda that Bush could and did run on. Like Bush, Romney talks about fiscal conservatism, but Romney gave the woman no reason to believe he would govern differently. It was Romney’s “just trust me” argument all over again, and he failed to acknowledge that one of the reasons so many people don’t trust him is that he doesn’t seem to have many major differences with Bush.
We can probably take seriously Romney’s enthusiasm for more trade agreements in Latin America, but that just underscores how similar the agendas are. Bush wanted a Free Trade Area of the Americas, but he was never able to realize that goal. What also stands out is just how irrelevant most of Romney’s answer was to the questioner’s concerns*. It’s not as if most voters look back on the Bush years and say, “Oh, if only Bush had negotiated more free trade agreements!” Even though the silly idea of “energy independence” is popular, no one looks back on Bush’s eight years in office and thinks that one of his biggest mistakes was failing to chase after this chimera. Romney still isn’t willing to confront Bush-era Republican failures because he agreed with virtually everything Bush did while in office. If he repudiates part of Bush’s record, he admits his past mistakes as well.
* Of course, both candidates frequently ignored the questions they were asked on Tuesday and said whatever they wanted.