Bob Dole wonders if the modern Republican party is too extreme

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Watching old politicians speak about the politics of the day can be a little sad at times.  Some viewers can’t help but think that these men don’t know enough to know when they’ve reached a point where they would probably be better advised to just ride quietly off into the sunset and reflect on their prominent careers.On Fox News Sunday, May 26, 2013, former Republican Senator, and presidential candidate, Bob Dole echoed President Barack Obama’s election year statement that Ronald Reagan could not have won the 2012 Republican primary.  Dole then went a step further saying that Richard Nixon may not have been able to win the GOP primary ticket in today’s hyper partisan version of the Republican Party either.  He also added about his own candidacy for president: “We might’ve made it, but I doubt it”.  The import of Dole’s message is that Republicans are too partisan, with the implicit statement that it’s the current lot of Republicans that are to blame for the current gridlock in Washington.

Quoting his father, Mike Wallace, Chris Wallace said,”Getting old is not for the weak.”  Dole agreed, but he said nothing about how much more difficult it could be for a once relevant figure to deal with his current irrelevance.  The latter has to be difficult for a figure that was once so relevant that he almost won the most relevant seat in our government.  Such a prominent figure probably has such a difficult time dealing with his own irrelevance that he feels compelled to make comments on the relevant that are no longer relevant, because he has been irrelevant for so long.

Such comments should not be seen as one last grasp at relevance in the career of the former Senator from Kansas, as he made a career out of an unspoken kinship with Democrats, and the media, by airing his disputes with high profile Republicans publicly.  It could be said that the pejorative term RINO (Republican in Name Only) saw a re-emergence as a result of the statements and actions of Robert Dole, and Senator John McCain (R, AZ).  It could be said that these men found allies in the media with their anti-Republican rhetoric, until they ran for president, and they found out—much to their surprise—that the media no longer regarded them as mavericks, but as a member of the enemy party…even when they continued to plead that they had still had problems with members of the Republican Party.

The premise of the argument in Washington today is how do we get Republicans to concede their belief system for the betterment of the country?  As Dole has proven throughout his career, he has no problem joining this conversation, regardless how faulty the premise may be.  It has never been of great concern to Dole, in other words, that Democrats attempt to compromise in a similar fashion.

The question conservatives would love to ask Dole, based on this, is is this because Democrats have always been hyper-partisan, and that the Republicans of Dole’s era learned to go along to get along with them, because those Dole-era Republicans were in the minority for so long that they developed a minority mindset?  What does Dole think of Nancy Pelosi’s “slam the door on Republicans” version of politics for example?  Does he think her strong arm, partisan politics would have fit right in with Tip O’Neill’s Congress, or would her method of operation have been an anomaly back then?  And how would the hyper-partisan practices of Florida Democrat Congressmen Alan Grayson and Debbie Wasserman Shultz have played in Tip O’Neill’s Congress?  Would Harry Reid’s soft spoken, in-your-face, politics have fared well in George Mitchell’s Senate, or was this method of operation, as Majority Leader, developed by Tom Daschle and George Mitchell?  Would Schumer and Durbin have been viewed as extreme in either Daschle or Mitchell’s Senate, or would they have fit right in?  If it’s the latter, in these cases, to whom should the greater praise be given?  Should Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul be castigated for their “partisan” efforts against the liberal progression, or should Dole’s moderate beliefs be praised when he did very little to stand up for the conservative faction of the Republican party throughout his career?

Another question conservatives would love to ask Dole—based on his statement that Reagan could not win the Republican primary today—is could Barack Obama’s partisan politics have succeeded in any of the Democrat primary tickets of yesteryear?  Could Obama have defeated Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or any of the non-incumbent tickets prior to 2008?  The import of the Dole interview is that the Republican party has grown too extreme, but a reverse of that question also illuminates the fact that the Democrat party has too.  Were Gore and Kerry more extreme left wingers than Clinton, and is Obama more extreme than Kerry?  According to the National Journal’s ratings on Senate votes, Kerry was seen as the most liberal member of the Senate prior to the 2004 presidential election, and Obama beat Kerry out for the apparently auspicious title prior to the 2008 presidential election.{1}  So, it could be said that the extreme liberal faction of the Democrat party has only grown stronger, and more partisan, throughout the years, and it could be argued that the Republican party has only grown more extreme in a paralleled reaction to that.

You could bet money that if Dole were still in the Senate, and all of the conditions of the Democrat party remained the same, Dole would join McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC) in their castigation of The Tea Party, and he would join them in their attempts to drown the conservative faction (that McCain calls the “Wacko bird” faction) out of the Republican party to the point of irrelevance.  The point is if you want to take Dole’s advice to heart, and you think he has the keys to Republican victory in modern day America, you’re probably not paying enough attention to what’s happening in both aisles of Washington today.

How often do these modern, high-profile Republicans reach across the aisle to get anything done, is a question Dole often asks.  A question that a Ted Cruz, a Rand Paul, or a Mike Lee, might ask is:  How often have these same Republicans had their hands bit when they did?  How often, during the 2008-2010 period in which Democrats controlled all three branches, were Republicans shut out, as Democrats flexed their muscles before them, and how bitter are modern Republican about that?  The same people that shut them out are the same people asking them to compromise now that Republicans have a little more muscle in the fight?  It takes two to tango.

The key to the careers of RINOs, like Dole and McCain, were their stances on foreign affairs, the military, and defense in general.  Being from red states, their constituency demanded that they remain hawks on defense, and as long as their spines were stiff on how veterans were treated, how we conducted ourselves overseas, and how large the budget for defense was, they could get away with “Squish” votes on domestic issues.  These two men were also strong men, in general, in that they had decorated military careers that involved an injury that every man would remove his cap for, but these aspects of their careers only allowed them to vote America into a progressive state that appears impossible to reverse at this point.  Conservatives have, thus, put their support behind those that appear to be trying to do the impossible, and in trying to do this they may appear to be stubborn partisans that don’t want the slide in Washington to continue.

“Reagan was a part of that Washington.  He made deals on immigration and on taxes.  Bad ones, many conservatives would say.  But deals nonetheless.  They were part of his political DNA.  Could someone like that have passed the GOP’s orthodoxy tests?  Big ideas, after all, are just that–reaching across political lines.

“The answer is not “yes” or “no.”  Like LeBron vs. Jordan, the answer is that different people adapt to different times. Would Reagan have rejected the current Tea Party-fueled ethic of political principles über alles and become another Arlen Specter?  Or would he, like House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio or Sen. John McCain–men who were once more like Dole–simply have adapted to the political realities of the day.

“That is an unanswerable question. But Dole is asking it.”{2}





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