In 1964, George H.W. Bush was a hardline conservative. Taking on liberal Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough, Bush denounced the newly enacted Civil Rights Act and generally out-Goldwatered Barry Goldwater. Six years later, Bush was a moderate, attempting to outflank Lloyd Bentsen – his conservative Democratic foe for the U.S. Senate – on the left by going after the support of organized labor.
In 1980, as a GOP presidential contender, Bush presented himself as the moderate voice of reason, unabashedly proclaiming himself pro-choice and bashing Ronald Reagan’s conservative, supply-side tax plan as “voodoo economics.” Eight years later, however, Bush embraced the voodoo and won the presidency by claiming he was a reborn pro-lifer obsessed with the issues of school prayer and flag burning.
Nearly 20 years into his retirement, Bush has become oddly fashionable lately: championed in a fawning new HBO documentary and nostalgically held up as a symbol of the bipartisanship and moderation that the GOP lost along the way. In fact, though, Bush never held to any set of beliefs for long, and that’s why he, more than any other figure from the GOP’s history, resembles Mitt Romney.