HAS THE GOP COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN 2001 TO 2009?…. It was a hard-to-forget treasure from the 2008 presidential campaign — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), a leading candidate at the time for the Republican presidential ticket, was asked on CNN to name any differences between George W. Bush and John McCain. He couldn’t.

Maybe now would be a good time to start asking Republican congressional candidates the same question.

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was asked about what Republicans would do with a majority. After struggling badly to think of anything substantive, he eventually said, “We need to go back to the exact same agenda that is empowering the free enterprise system rather than diminish it.”

We need to go back to the exact same agenda.” In context, the agenda Sessions seems to want “to go back to” was that of the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Congress.

Indeed, GOP leaders are not only urging a return to failed Bush policies, they’re even praising the failed former president.

The chairmen of the two Republican campaign committees defended the presidency of George W. Bush in television appearances over the weekend, a preview of the GOP’s planned pushback against expected Democratic attacks on the last president.

“People had jobs when Republicans were not only in charge but George Bush was there,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program that “Bush’s stock has gone up a lot since he left office,” adding: “I think a lot people are looking back with more fondness on President Bush’s administration, and I think history will treat him well.”

To be sure, we’ve heard some of this before. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said in April that Bush “will go down as a very, very good president,” adding that the former president deserves support from anyone “who is not a rank political hack.” Around the same time, former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) was roundly applauded when he praised Bush at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this month. There’s even been some talk in GOP circles of a “Bush Restoration Project.”

But Republican committee chairmen like Sessions and Cornyn are supposed to know better. Indeed, the entire campaign is quickly becoming inexplicable.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen high-profile Republicans urge the party to return to Bush’s economic agenda, Bush’s Social Security agenda, Bush’s tax policies, and Bush’s regulatory agenda.

With just four months to go before the midterm elections, Republican candidates seem to seriously believe if we just go back to the policies that failed miserably, and created our current mess(es), we’ll all be better off. Dems have been trying to push this argument for months, and for some reason, the GOP now appears intent to help. It seems more than a little risky.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.