Less than two weeks before Iowa Republicans make their crucial caucus choices on the night of Jan. 3, George H.W. Bush offered words of support, if not an official endorsement, to an old friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, according to a story today in the Houston Chronicle.
“I think Romney is the best choice for us,” former President Bush told the newspaper. “I like Perry, but he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; he’s not surging forward.”
After taking a phone call from Bush, Romney told reporters: "As you can tell there's growing momentum for this effort here in New Hampshire and across the country. I thanked him for his support, his leadership, his heroic life and his friendship. This is much more important to me personally than even politically."
The former president’s choice is a blow to native son Rick Perry, the Texas governor who has had a long-standing feud with the Bush family and no doubt would have preferred that Bush remain neutral.
Bush said he had known Romney for many years and also knew his father, George Romney, a former Republican governor of Michigan who ran for president in 1968. He praised Romney for his “stability, experience, principles,” and added, “I just think he’s mature and reasonable – not a bomb-thrower.”
But he said he did not mean to imply that the other candidates are bomb-throwers. “I’ve got to be a little careful, because I like Perry; he’s our governor,” he told the newspaper.
Joe Householder, a Houston-based political consultant, told he Chronicle that with his not-an-endorsement statements, the former president probably was drawing a distinction for voters around the country who may not be aware of the historic antipathy between the Bush and Perry camps. In last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, when Perry sought a history-making third term as governor, the Bushes endorsed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
Bush also made clear in the interview that he is no fan of another of Romney’s rivals, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Choosing his words carefully, the former president said, “I’m not his biggest advocate,” he said.
Bush recalled a crucial moment in 1990 when he was counting on Gingrich and other Republican leaders to stand with him as he backed a budget bill that included new taxes. Gingrich, then the House whip, famously bolted the session.
“He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders,” Bush told the Chronicle. “The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, ‘Where’s Gingrich?’ Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing.
“He told me one time later on, he said, ‘This is the most difficult thing I ever had to do.’ I said, ‘I didn’t like it much myself, Newt.’ ”