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Saturday, December 10, 2016

In retrospect, maybe we weren’t fair to Mitt Romney.

The 2016 GOP primary, featuring the rise of Donald Trump and the floundering of Jeb Bush, has revealed that Mitt wasn’t so terrible a candidate compared to this year’s crew of birthers, war-mongers, theocratic dominionists, and delusional tycoons — including some who fit all four categories.

We made fun of the former governor of Massachusetts in 2012 as he was eclipsed, one by one, by a parade of bumbling wannabes, despite spending tens of millions of dollars more than any of his opponents. We mocked his robotic lack of charm, his inability to empathize with millions of workers suffering as the result of conservative policies, and his willingness to heed the same Bush/Cheney foreign policy team that lied us into Iraq.

Okay, we were right to do that.

But we also mocked Mitt for saying that he liked to fire people. This year we’ve learned that his biggest mistake was that he didn’t say that he loves to fire people. He should have had his own network TV show where he was cheered for firing people. The end credits should have featured him flying away in his private helicopter, laughing maniacally as he pursued his third or fourth wife.

Many pundits suggest that Romney’s mere mention of “self-deportation” once in a GOP debate cost him the Latino vote and the election. But Mitt’s real problem was that he didn’t call for actual deportation, like: “I will immediately begin Operation Wetback II after I build a wall out of immigrants’ skulls.”

Thanks to Trump, we now know that many Republican voters eat up that stuff, like a take-home box from Golden Corral that never makes it home.

The issues we thought cost Mitt the election — his wealth, his disregard for workers’ job security, his immigration policies — could have been his greatest assets. By embracing all of these “flaws,” Trump has confirmed the worst suspicions about a surprisingly large slice of the GOP base and displayed a resiliency in polls that Romney didn’t attain until late in the GOP primary.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush’s numbers are dwindling somewhere within the 2012 range between Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. He’s the real life-version of the robotic, soulless, gaffe-prone Mitt Romney we parodied in the last election cycle. Not only does he have the baggage of the worst presidency in our lifetime in his genes, he also has no record of accomplishment beyond winning the birth lottery and serving as Florida’s governor during the inflationary curve of a housing bubble. And he thinks other people don’t understand the value of “earned success.”

Mitt has actually helped some people — and not just by losing in 2012. He’s an extraordinarily charitable dude, especially to his church. And his health care reforms were largely driven by Democratic ideas, but he made them law in Massachusetts and helped sanctify a template that has now greatly expanded health coverage in 2016 America.

Mitt ran against his own reforms in 2012, promising that they would destroy America as we know it. He did this because his past record of being pro-choice and backing health insurance for poor people appeared to doom his primary campaign. But Trump has proved there’s a simple response to any Republican who dares question his conservative credentials: Reagan was once a Democrat, and I’m more scared of brown people than you are.

Jeb Bush is trying to rerun Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign — but as a farce.

He refuses to be complicit in the xenophobia that’s supercharging the campaigns of Trump and Ben Carson — but he assumed that relatively decent position with an attitude reeking of condescension — and it quickly fell apart as he mysteriously decided to utter the “anchor baby” slur that immigration activists despise.

Beyond that, he’s repeating many of Romney’s worst errors — going after Planned Parenthood, for instance — but framing it in impossibly offensive ways (“I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues“) that demand immediate revision.

When Bush said of the mass shooting at an Oregon community college last week that “Stuff happens,” his remark was wrenched from context to make him seem more heartless. But he wasn’t just being tin-eared. He was expressing his actual policy toward murderous rampages like this latest tragedy and Sandy Hook: We have to expect them and not overreact by trying to prevent them.

Mitt Romney tried to pretend he wasn’t cutting his own taxes because he knew that was a terrible message to send, given that he was trying to gut Social Security and Medicare because of “debt concerns.” Jeb Bush admits that his tax cuts would give him $3 million a year as he proposes immediate cuts to Social Security.  “I mean, that’s just the way it is,” he said.

He’s arguing that we can’t afford the current version of the program that keeps many, many Americans out of poverty, but we can afford $3.6 trillion in tax breaks that go mostly to the rich AND a third Bush War in Iraq.

It’s awful enough when a Republican promises to reprise the worst policies of the second Bush administration. But when an actual Bush does so, with zero humility and no sense of the tremendous damage that his brother’s actions have done to America and the world, it’s offensive beyond description.

And watching him applaud his brother for “keeping us safe” because only one 9/11 — along with one Iraq War, one Katrina non-response, and one disastrous financial crisis — happened on W.’s watch, there aren’t enough metaphorical thrown shoes in the world to display the proper amount of derision. And now it seems he wants to drag W. out on campaign trail.

If Jeb Bush’s flaming pile of a presidential campaign were a presidency, it would be George W. Bush’s.

When Liz Cheney tried to run in a GOP primary in 2014, she dropped out before the first vote was cast. Jeb Bush would be doing a huge favor to himself and America if he did the same.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, United States, September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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