Former Sen. Bob Dole spent a generation as one of the Republican Party’s most prominent policymakers. He was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 1976; he was his party’s presidential nominee in 1996; and he spent nearly a decade as the leader of his party’s Senate caucus.
But to listen to Dole now, the Kansas Republican doesn’t seem to recognize today’s version of his party.
WALLACE: What do you think of your party, of the Republicans, today?
DOLE: I think 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.
WALLACE: You describe the GOP of your generation as Eisenhower Republicans, moderate Republicans. Could people like Bob Dole, even Ronald Reagan, could you make it in today’s Republican Party?
DOLE: I doubt it. And I – Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas and, we might have made it, but I doubt it.
When Democrats note that the Republican Party has been radicalized to such an extent that many of its own iconic figures would be driven from the party by contemporary GOP standards, it’s accurate but expected. When Bob Dole makes the same argument, the political world should take note.
The assumption among many is that the nation has two mainstream political parties – a center-left party and a center-right party – that battle for the support of the American mainstream. This assumption is incorrect. One of those two parties has been radicalized, and Dole seems all too aware of it. Also note, it’s not just figures like Reagan, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Dole who wouldn’t be welcome in today’s GOP; it’s also more contemporary figures like Lugar, Bennett, Specter, Inglis, and Crist.
For context, it’s worth noting that Dole’s concerns about Republican extremism have been steadily growing for a while. In March, the Boston Globe ran a lengthy, fascinating feature on Dole coming to terms with the fact that the “old rules no longer apply” with today’s Republican lawmakers.
Of particular interest, Dole worked hard to generate support for ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, only to be betrayed by Senate Republicans who knew right-wing conspiracy theories about the treaty were wrong, but who voted to kill it anyway because they fear the GOP’s radicalized base.
And I suppose that’s ultimately why all of this matters. Dole is giving his party good advice, which it feels compelled to ignore. Sure, Republican lawmakers could listen to Dole, accept legislative compromises, and work with people with whom they disagree, but they know that such actions would only lead to primary challenges, conservative condemnations, and short careers.
So the radicalization continues apace.