With Friends Like Bob Dole, Jeb Doesn’t Need Any…

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The conservative manifestoes against Donald Trump beg the question of who else? Ted Cruz is, for many leading conservatives, the consensus candidate for conservatives, though many thought Marco Rubio was sufficiently conservative and more likely to prevail in a general election.

But the situation is chaotic, because Jeb Bush’s SuperPAC has been spending 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.

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, focused and articulate 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 supporter Bob Dole seems more intent on bashing Cruz than boosting Jeb. Dole has been unguided or misguided for years. Cruz cannot get along with Congress, Dole insists, but Cruz explains he is not a “go along, get along” kind of guy. Indeed, Cruz brags about his confrontations. But 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.