Team Obama’s odds of victory in November depend a great deal on its ability to force an actual comparison of the two candidates’ (and their parties’) policy agendas, particularly with respect to the economy. And on that front, the president has already made it abundantly clear–particularly in his much-praised new “The Choice” ad–that he will continue to tie Romney’s economic strategy to that of Obama’s predecessor.

So it’s not the best sign for Mitt Romney that when he was directly asked by NBC’s Brian Williams yesterday to distinguish his approach to growth and job creation from W.’s, he sort of ignored it and just read his usual talking points. Here’s Jon Chait’s take on the moment and its significance:

The answer was a mere recapitulation of his plans (“Well, let me describe — actually, there are five things that I believe are necessary to get this economy going … ”). I won’t reprint the entire answer, but Romney did not make the slightest attempt to distinguish his approach from Bush’s. Of course that is because it’s the same thing! Every single idea Romney listed — low taxes, free trade, less regulation, developing energy, etc. — was part of Bush’s program.

Now, the usual Republican answer here, on how their approach will succeed where Bush’s failed, is to shout, spending! Romney promises to cut it. Bush also promised to cut it, but didn’t. I don’t think this really answers the main objection — lower spending may help the long-term budget picture, but the policies Republicans most directly associate with economic growth are taxes, regulation, and energy. And here Romney really is proposing the exact same policies as Bush.

But the surprising thing is that Romney didn’t even have that, or any other handy answer to the question. This is a pretty bad political messaging slip-up, but it also indicates a larger problem: Republicans haven’t really internalized the degree to which Bush’s policies truly failed to produce strong economic growth. They blame him for letting spending grow too high, and they recognize that the crash was a bad thing, but conservative rhetoric almost uniformly fails to acknowledge that even pre-crash growth under Bush was absolutely miserable.

It’s not real hard for voters to remember that their disgruntlement with GOP economic policies didn’t begin with the crash. So I expect that future Obama campaign communications will refresh their memories, and could continue to catch Romney flat-footed.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.