) -- Former President George H. W. Bush on Thursday endorsed Mitt Romney and distanced himself from Newt Gingrich, in a move that will surely be a conservative rubber stamp for the former Massachusetts governor's campaign.

Bush, the 41st president of the United States,

told the

Houston Chronicle

that he felt Romney was the best choice for Republicans and cited past conflict with Gingrich as a reason he had trouble backing the former House speaker.

"I had a conflict with

Gingrich at one point," Bush told the


. "I'm not his biggest advocate."

Bush said he liked Romney's stability, experience and principles, and that he was not a "bomb-thrower."

Bush said he had trouble with Gingrich in 1990 when a recession hit the United States that forced the former president to raise taxes, a move that went against his now infamous promise of "no new taxes."

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Gingrich was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders," Bush recalled to the


. "The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, 'Where's Gingrich?' Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing."

Bush, who lives in Houston, was careful to say that he likes Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but said that Perry's campaign doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

The endorsement comes as Romney has closed a wide poll margin between he and Gingrich, and as the former Massachusetts governor has seen a bump in Iowa surveys less than two weeks ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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