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Gary Younge
Bush has become the president Republicans would rather forget

What ever happened to George Bush? I've been hanging out with Republicans for a week now and no one's mentioned him. I mean he literally hasn't come up in conversation.

At a campaign event in Bluffton on Wednesday, Mitt Romney listed his inspirations as Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. He also made jibes about Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. More than two decades of presidents and the one he just couldn't bring himself to mention is the one who's in the White House now. The one that the Supreme Court selected in 2000 and the crowd in Buffton elected in 2004.

The Republicans have a strange relationship with George Bush. Deep down they have great affection for him. After all, he did everything they wanted. He cut taxes, waged war in the Middle East and stuffed the Supreme Court with conservatives. They can't blame anyone else for him. And yet they don't want to publicly take responsibility for him either. Katrina, Iraq, the budget deficit, social security have all exhausted the benefit of whatever doubts there were. The rest of the country has gradually - all too gradually - come to realise that he's an incompetent dolt. His presidency is dead in the water. And now the Republican candidates are simply walking over the body in pursuit of the presidency.

South Carolina has been pivotal in that regard. Since 1980 the Republican who won this state has gone on to win the nomination. This year it is a two horse race with John McCain and Mike Huckabee in the lead, and Romney and Fred Thompson bringing up the rear. Three weeks and four contests into the process and the Republicans have produced three winners and no clear frontrunner. One of the reasons they are struggling to find a leader this time around is because they have yet to make their peace with the last one they chose.

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