Romney Chides Rivals for Dissing Bush

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is chiding G.O.P. rivals Mike Huckabee and John McCain for their deviations from President Bush on security and tax policy.

"He is our president and we support him," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. "The reason for these contrasts is that they are, fundamentally, about core Republican principles.

"Mike Huckabee has challenged a very strong national security posture maintained by President Bush and Republicans that has helped keep the country safe," Madden said. "John McCain joined with Democrats to reject Republican tax relief policies that have helped grow the economy and create jobs."

The differences between Romney's rivals and President Bush should not be overstated: Huckabee supports the troop surge in Iraq and McCain supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. But in shining attention on particular Bush apostasies committed by Huckabee and McCain, Romney is hoping to ingratiate himself with conservative primary voters who still support the president.

Believing that 2008 will be a "change election," some Democratic strategists have mused in private that Romney's rivals are playing the smarter general-election strategy in putting some daylight between themselves and President Bush.

But for now, Romney is focused on getting through the next two weeks when voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will render their verdict on his bid to be the conservative establishment's choice for president.

Romney began his embrace of Bush in the middle of December when Huckabee, Romney's chief rival in Iowa, wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he accused the Bush administration of having an "arrogant bunker mentality."

Romney quickly demanded an apology.

"That's an insult to the president, and Mike Huckabee should apologize to the president," Romney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Romney stepped up his effort to use deviations from Bush against Huckabee by launching an ad quoting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that the former Arkansas governor's criticism was "ludicrous."

The Bush embrace is also taking place in New Hampshire where Romney is battling McCain.

In an ad released Friday, Romney rips the Arizona senator for having voted against some of Bush's tax cuts. When McCain later said that he would still cast the same vote today, his comments were quickly circulated by Romney's campaign.

On top of the tax issue, the Romney campaign has also been circulating comments from McCain in 2000 in which he suggested that then-Gov. Bush was similar to then-President Bill Clinton in that both men allegedly had trouble telling the truth.

While Romney has been highlighting his fealty to Bush, Huckabee and McCain have put more emphasis on how they are different from the president.

"One man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq. One man had the courage to call for change," says the narrator of one of McCain's New Hampshire ads.

Huckabee, with his mix of social conservatism and economic populism, has emphasized change over continuity.

"I am out to change the Republican Party. It needs changing," Huckabee said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I'm not running for George Bush's third term."