THE BLOG
01/22/2016 06:37 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2017

Dole Goes After Cruz, but Why?


With Friends Like Bob Dole, Jeb Doesn't Need Any
...

The conservative manifestoes published in the current issue of National Review(as a result, NR now os ostracized by the Republican National Committee as a debate co-sponsor) against Donald Trump beg the question of who else? It won't be, say, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, both of whom would likely suspend their campaign in a couple of weeks (after Iowa). And Ben Carson never realized his potential. He needs to run second in Iowa, and that's unlikely, or a very strong third. Long ago, many key conservative leaders settled on Scott Walker, whose candidacy was short-lived; even before that, a few went with Rick Perry. Both Walker and Perry showed great integrity in withdrawing early, though each had a well-endowed SuperPAC.

Ted Cruz remains, for many leading conservatives, their consensus candidate, though many thought Marco Rubio was sufficiently conservative and more likely to prevail in a general election. Conservatives were divided -- some thought Cruz unduly projected ideology and mean-spiritness; others thought Rubio failed to grasp that Americans are not keen on another ground war in the Mideast.

But the situation is even more chaotic, because Jeb Bush's SuperPAC has been spending tens of millions of dollars to bring down other candidates, especially Marco Rubio, in a scorched earth effort to salvage the nomination for Jeb who, money aside, was never really viable, because he lacked a reason for his candidacy. The ads have not gained traction for Jeb, but they have had a spoiler effect on others, notably Marco Rubio.

As for Cruz, Bob Dole -- who typifies the Republican old-timers, says that if Ted Cruz is the Republican nominee, "We're going to have wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures."

Bob Dole should know. When it comes to losses, he is somewhat of an expert. A little bit of history:

When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, as part of a plea bargain involving corruption, Gerald Ford was the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the 25th amendment. The following year Richard Nixon resigned, and Ford became president. Just eight years earlier, as an undergraduate at UCLA, I had met the affable Ford, then House Minority Leader, when he spoke on campus. I could not imagine this nice but unimpressive man would ever be president, but such are the accidents of history. As president he would be remembered for the silly "Whip Inflation Now" (WIN) campaign.

After Nixon's resignation in 1974, Ford appointed New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to take Ford's place as vice president. I had dealt with the Rockefeller team in New York when I was with the state's U.S. Senator, James L. Buckley. I knew that Rocky still harbored presidential ambitions. Conservatives were weary. By 1975 Ford feared a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan. He asked Rockefeller to withdraw from consideration as the vice presidential nominee. At the convention the next year in Kansas City, Missouri, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater conditioned their support of Ford on an agreeable vice presidency nominee. Bob Dole emerged as a barely acceptable compromise choice: his war record was admirable, but war-weary voters were concerned that year with economic issues.

The Republican Party was still damaged goods from Watergate and the reaction to Ford's pardon of Nixon. Nonetheless the race against a weak Jimmy Carter could have been won. Leftist Carter campaigned as an evangelical Southern Boy and spoke about the "malaise" in America. Republican Beltway consultants close to Ford and Dole were clueless. Ford ran an unimpressive campaign and made a catastrophic blunder in the presidential debate by saying that the Soviet Union did not control its Eastern European satellite countries. In that campaign run partly by Dole cronies (the "Consultant Class" now derived by Trump supporters), Dole added little to the ticket and was not especially impressive in his role as "attack dog." President Jimmy Carter proved a disaster and brought about the Islamist Revolution in Iran; we're still paying the consequences.

A war hero, a decent man, and a witty fellow, Dole also ran for president three times. In dismal campaigns in which he was sarcastic and caustic and at times seemed angry, Dole lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and to George H.W. Bush in 1988. And in 1996 Bill Clinton, running for reelection, easily beat Dole. That year I did focus groups and I probed the issue of Dole's age (he was 73, a year younger than Bernie Sanders is now). "We don't care about his age," panelists told me. "It's just that he acts old ... He seems old ... He thinks old ... His ideas are old."

In six months, Dole -- about the same age as the energetic and focused, articulate and perceptive former U.S. Senator Jim Buckley, will be 93. Perhaps Dole is not thinking so clearly. He says Trump is "gaining a little" (he has been in first place for six months). Last month, Dole dismissed Donald Trump as "over the top" and Ted Cruz as 'extreme." Elder Statesman Bob Dole then gratuitously praised Barack Obama as "a very good man." Yet Dole has the chutzpah to question the allegiance of Ted Cruz to the Republican Party, because Cruz uses the word "conservative" more than "Republican."

All this is, as CNN liberal talking head Van Jones says, a civil war, and Dole is an aging symbol of that civil war. His support of Jeb Bush is meaningless, his attack on Cruz makes no difference, except that he now makes Trump more palatable.

Jeb's SuperPAC has reportedly spent more than $20 million just on take-down negative ads against Marco Rubio. And Jeb supporter Bob Dole seems more intent on bashing another candidate -- Ted Cruz -- than boosting Jeb. Generally, Dole has been unguided or misguided for years; specifically, he now targets Cruz rather than Trump.

Cruz cannot get along with Congress, Dole insists, but Cruz explains he is a conservative first, a Republican second, and he is not a "go along, get along" kind of guy. Indeed, Cruz brags about his fidelity to principle and his consequent confrontation with Republican leaders. Dole once was Republican Minority Leader in the U.S. Senate, so for him party loyalty is more important than adherence to principle.

The practical effect of Dole's attacks on Cruz is that they help Trump.

Furthermore, according to Jeb Bush supporter Dole, the combative Trump suddenly has "the right personality and he's kind of a deal-maker." You can bet Trump will pick up that quote.

This appeared earlier, in slightly different form.