Bob Dole Has Some Nerve

Former Senate Majority Leader and 1996 GOP Presidential nominee Bob Dole excoriated the Republican Party on Fox News Sunday, saying the Party lacked new ideas and engaged in too much obstructionist activity in the upper chamber.

“They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says ‘Closed for repairs,’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” he said.

Additionally, Dole remarked that not only was he doubtful he could “make it” in today’s Republican Party, but he believes Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon could not make it either in the current GOP, saying, “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might’ve made it, but I doubt it.”

His criticism of his own party seems much harsher than that of President Obama who he said does not know how to reach across the aisle and cultivate relationships with Republicans. Dole’s remarks come at a bizarre period, considering the multitudinous scandals hitting the Obama administration at once.

The current Republican Party  may be distasteful to Dole, but its important to consider a number of things about Dole the politician. First, Dole owed Reagan for suggesting to Gerald Ford to pick Dole as Ford’s running mate in 1976. Ford did this to get Reagan supporters on his side after the primaries. How did Dole repay Reagan?

According to a June 1, 1996 article of The Economist, Dole made some pretty nasty remarks about the great communicator in the past: 

Some time ago, before Bob Dole turned 70 years old, he described Ronald Reagan as “a befuddled septuagenarian.” Some time ago, before Mr Dole started to rely on teleprompters, he called Mr Reagan “a programmed line-reader.” And, right after Mr Reagan won a landslide victory in 1984 by issuing vague promises of tax reform, Mr Dole addressed a Florida crowd. “I’ve just obtained a copy of President Reagan’s secret tax plan,” he announced, holding up a blank sheet of paper. 

Dole complained that he would not make it in today’s Republican Party. However, Dole could not make it in 1976 on the bottom of the GOP presidential ticket against when the Party ran against Jimmy Carter or the top of the ticket 20 years later when he ran against Bill Clinton. Reagan campaign manager John Sears wrote in the L.A. Times in September of 1995 that Dole was a political chameleon who did not know what he was for or against :

Perceptions are more important than facts in politics, and the perception that Dole created was that he overreacts. This is not a helpful perception about a possible President, since we want our Presidents to be strong men who see a clear picture and are not distracted by minutiae.

Dole, in a magazine article early this year, claimed it was Richard M. Nixon who taught him his talent for handling issues. “Run to the right until you are nominated,” Nixon had presumably said, “and then move to the center.” Not bad advice in its day, but if Dole thinks he is implementing this advice by what he is doing, he’s crazy.

What Nixon meant (and what he did) was to emphasize during the nomination process those issues he and conservatives agreed on, then, as the election unfolded, move to those on which there was disagreement. Then there were those matters he did not have strong feelings about, that could be used to fine-tune his position in the center, or right of center, of the political spectrum. Nixon used to refer to these issues as the “paint- our- backsides- white- and- run- with- the antelopes” issues.

But everything Nixon said was something he was willing to stand behind. He was for dealing from strength with the Russians, against the busing of children to achieve racial equality, for putting more conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was also for open housing, for black capitalism, for creating a new agency to deal with the environment. Dole flits back and forth about what he’s for until the conclusion is hard to escape that he doesn’t know what he’s for.

Earlier this year, at a GOP gathering, Dole said, “I’ll be anything you want me to be; I’ll be Ronald Reagan if that’s what you want.” Certainly, Nixon would never have told him to make such a statement. He may have wished he could be Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he also knew he’d just have to be himself.

Reagan, incidentally, never had any of these problems. He was for you, or against you, and you could count on it. But even if he was against you, he found ways to make you feel comfortable. Certainly no advocate of the gay agenda in the late 1970s, he campaigned against an initiative on the California ballot that would have denied gays and lesbians the right to teach in the California education system. Certainly no advocate of organized labor’s agenda, he received the votes of millions of working-class Democrats who felt he cared about them. Certainly no fan of the Soviet Union, Reagan politely accepted its surrender.

Reagan never gave back any contributions or apologized for any support. It was always, “They’re supporting me, I’m not supporting them” as far as Reagan was concerned. And this was true.

Finally, why did Bob Dole lose to Clinton in 1996? For one thing his ideas never solidified quickly enough. The Baltimore Sun gives some clues. Dole was not willing to attack Clinton on ethics issues until late in the election, and even then the attacks were soft peddled, with slogans like “character counts.” :

Dole also had trouble figuring out how to highlight Clinton’s potential weakness on ethics issues. In the spring, the Republican nominee spoke vaguely about “trust,” suggesting at one point that people would feel better entrusting their children to Dole’s care than to Clinton’s. But most in the Dole camp had argued strenuously that the candidate himself — already saddled with a reputation for nastiness — should not go on the attack because critics would say he was being mean. 

The Dole camp stalled for too long over running on a 15 percent tax cut. He was never known as a supply side defender. Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe wrote in 1996, “Believability-wise, a promise from Dole to cut taxes is like those letters I get from Publishers Clearinghouse — “YOU, JEFF JACOBY, MAY HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS!!” It could theoretically happen, but no sane person would count on it.” By the time the Dole campaign decided to add the 15 percent tax cut promise to the platform, once again, it was already too late. 

Perhaps Dole wants to assure his relevancy as well as his legacy within the GOP, but his most recent statements will surely not help him.

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