TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican convention may occasionally dip into the weeds this week, but it will do its best to stay away from the Bushes — as in former President George W. Bush, who still casts a long shadow over the party he led for a rocky eight-year tenure.
Mr. Bush won’t be speaking at the three-day convention, nor will his father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president. With the exception of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, there are no other major speakers whose main credentials spring from their time with the younger Mr. Bush and the latest Republican administration.
“President 43 and President 41 understand there’s a time for ex-presidents to speak and a time for them to stand down,” said Bradley A. Blakeman, a senior staffer in Mr. Bush’s first term. “I think George W. Bush is showing his class and his leadership by allowing [GOP nominee] Mitt Romney to take it to Obama and for Romney to lead the party.”
Polls show Mr. Bush is the most unpopular living president and, at least policywise, the Republican Party is trying to run as fast as it can from many of the major moves of Mr. Bush’s years — in particular the sizable debt racked up during his two terms and the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement program he pushed into law.
Mr. Bush also continues to cast a shadow over politics, with his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts serving as the chief battlefield in the fight Mr. Obama is waging with Mr. Romney and congressional Republicans over raising taxes on the wealthy.
Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist who has watched Mr. Bush’s complex relationship with the GOP over the years, said leaving him out of the convention also tamps down lingering bad feelings among some Republicans who say he led the party astray, both politically and philosophically.
“He wasn’t a bad president, but he wasn’t a good president either, and he governed a hell of a lot more like a moderate Democrat than a conservative Republican, and for better or for worse, this convention is a conservative Republican convention,” Mr. McKenna said.
As much as the Romney camp may want to avoid mention of Mr. Bush altogether, the weather and the media made that impossible.
With a hurricane bearing down on New Orleans, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico led their front-page election coverage section with a story subtitled: “For Republicans, the threat of Isaac raises the specter of the White House’s failure after Katrina.”
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and for many voters, the botched federal response came to symbolize Mr. Bush’s tenure.
Three years later, another storm, Hurricane Gustav, helped Republicans ease Mr. Bush off the stage ahead of the 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minn. Saying he needed to monitor the storm response from Washington, Mr. Bush bowed out of his Monday night speaking slot.
Instead, he made a brief address by video just after a speech by his wife, Laura.
“The McCain people made it clear they didn’t want him at the convention and ‘manning the Oval Office’ was a convenient excuse,” said Matt Latimer, a former Bush speechwriter.
He said Bush aides were not happy about being ushered out.