It's amusing that Mitt Romney's campaign would tout a warning from Bob Dole that Newt Gingrich's nomination would lead to "an Obama landslide," because their Romney's looking a lot like Dole in his failed 2012 bid. Will Romney, like Dole, lose to a young incumbent Democratic president?
Romney's campaign sent the former Senator's statement to The National Review, which published it Thursday under the headline "Dole Goes Nuclear." In it, Dole complains that Gingrich would take no one's advice, had trouble among Republicans just a couple years into being speaker, and picked fights with Bill Clinton for the sake of media attention. He warns:
I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices...
In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty ice-bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it.
Abandon Newt or face "a Obama landslide," Dole says. That's a nice message for Romney, but there are several reasons why Romney's campaign should want to distance their candidate from Dole in primary voters' minds.
- Most obviously, in the 1996 election, Clinton won 379 electoral votes to Dole's 159. Likewise, conservative bloggers worry that Romney's not the most "electable" candidate this year at all. Romney's "general election campaign will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process," RedState's Erick Erickson wrote in November.
- But more importantly, like Romney, Dole was seen as too moderate. He lost badly in the New Hampshire primary to culture warrior Pat Buchanan. People talked about his "dark side" (meaning: he told funny jokes.) Dole moved rightward in the primary ("Most Republican candidates move to the right in a primary... Dole's has been more of a leap than a slide." Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Mother Jones in early 1996.) Republicans fear a replay of that 16 years later. A RedState blogger fretted in October: "The GOP establishment wanted a known, reliable, “proven” candidate..one of their own, someone they were comfortable with..and that was Bob Dole, who also happened to be old, tired, and uninspiring, a vapid, weak campaigner, unable to inspire and excite the conservative GOP base, and who indeed probably initially figured that there was no way he could lose. Well, he found a way."
- And finally, just like Romney, conservatives feared Dole was a fake conservative. Romney's calculations have slipped through several times. "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake! I can't have illegals," Romney said during a debate. When asked if he was a Mexican-American, since his dad was born in Mexico, Romney said Wednesday, "I would love to be able to convince people of that, particularly in a Florida primary... I would appreciate it if you could get that word out.” In fact, the only presidential candidate in recent memory who was more open about his cynical political calculations than Romney was Bob Dole! At least Dole seemed to do it on purpose. From the same 1996 Mother Jones article:
In July, [Dole] told the Republican National Committee, "I'm willing to be another Ronald Reagan if that's what you want." When Vice President Gore called him a right-wing extremist last fall, Dole deadpanned, "That may help me in some of the early primary states, but I don't think it's accurate." … Later at a press conference celebrating passage of the Medicare cuts, Dole turns to thank the GOP's leading physician, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee: "We really appreciate your giving us some credibility."
Ironically, in that story, Dole was pegged as "might be the only thing that will slow Newt Gingrich's conservative revolution." That probably won't be any truer this time around. But this election has answered one question for Dole: what Gingrich's white bucket was all about. Mother Jones' Tim Murphy reported this month that Gingrich carried it around as a symbol of his end to wasteful spending because he ended a program that delivered ice twice a day to congressional offices. But Gingrich didn't really end the ice delivery, he just changed it. That led a Democratic opponent to joke, "Mr. Gingrich increased his office budget by $600,000 -- a difference, measured in ice terms, of more than 130,000 bags of ice."