BERLIN, N.H. – Former President George H.W. Bush revealed today he is supporting Mitt Romney in his bid for the presidency, potentially adding further momentum to the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign.
“I think Romney is the best choice for us,” the former President Bush told the Houston Chronicle. “I like [Texas Governor Rick] Perry, but he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; he’s not surging forward.”
On Romney, he was effusive.
“He’s a fine person,” he said. “I just think he’s mature and reasonable – not a bomb-thrower.”
Romney, on a bus tour across New Hampshire today, spoke with the former president.
“I’m very encouraged by the support of President Bush,” Romney told reporters in Berlin before knocking on doors. “As you can tell there’s growing momentum for this effort, here in New Hampshire and across the country.
“I must admit this is much more important to me personally than even politically,” Romney added.
Of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Bush said, “I’m not his biggest advocate.”
Several Republicans integral to the budget talks of 1990, in which Bush decided to break his “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge in exchange for budget discipline that would lead to a balanced budget, say Gingrich undercut the president in negotiations.
In the interview with the Chronicle, Bush alluded to that pivotal moment in his presidency, when he was counting on Gingrich, then the House whip, to stand with him and other Republican leaders.
“He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders,” Bush recalled. “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.’”
Jim Appleby, who is Bush’s personal aid and spokesman, sought to draw a distinction between Bush’s avowed support of Romney and an official endorsement.
“It is not an endorsement of the governor,” Appleby said. “As he says in there, he’s a really good friend.”
When asked what the difference is between supporting someone publicly and endorsing them, he said, “You would probably have to ask someone more politically savvy than myself. But at this point the difference I could guess at is a lunchtime conversation where his personal feelings are talked about and an official statement coming from our office and him saying this is an endorsement.”
Bush last year also appeared to give Romney an informal endorsement, telling CNN host Larry King that Romney would be “a very good president.”
“If you asked me, who will the nominee be, I couldn’t tell you,” George Bush said on CNN, when asked by host Larry King who his personal favorite is for the 2012 contest. “We like Mitt Romney. We know him well and like him very much.”
“He’s a reasonable guy,” he added. “A conservative fellow, which is good. But no, I think he’d be a good president, a very good president.”
Barbara Bush was more emphatic.
“I’ll go with George. Mitt Romney,” she said. “I like a lot of them. But I like people who feel that you can respect other people’s ideas. I like that a lot.”
Appleby said today that Barbara Bush also had not yet made a formal endorsement.
A Romney adviser, when asked about the Bush backing, said, “It’s real. Totally.” The adviser said Romney was at the Bushes house about a month and a half ago “to shoot the breeze.” Ann Romney also visited the Bushes in October at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“There’s a warm, honest relationship between the two men,” the Romney adviser said.Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.