Bob Dole Lambastes The GOP

Former Senator Bob Dole joins the list of those not too happy with the current state of the Republican Party.

Elephants Fighting

Former Senator, and 1996 Republican Presidential nominee, Bob Dole isn’t too pleased with the current state of his party:

The Republican Party has changed so drastically in recent years, the current GOP wouldn’t welcome the likes of Ronald Reagan, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said Sunday.

The current GOP ought to be “closed for repairs” because it lacks a vision and is unable to strike deals with Democrats, Dole said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday”.

The Kansas Republican said he was disturbed by his party’s obstructionist behavior on Capitol Hill.  “It seems almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” he said.


Asked whether he would be welcomed by the Republican Party today, Dole said, “I doubt it. Reagan wouldn’t have made it, certainly Nixon wouldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”

Dole said his party needs stronger leadership. “Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to do this,'” he said.

To be honest, a Republican Party that wouldn’t have been friendly to Richard Nixon isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not only was he corrupt, but he enacted some pretty dumb and disastrous domestic policies during six years in the White House.  As for Reagan, we’ve written here several times about how the current conservative vision of Reagan differs significantly from the reality of the man who ran for President in 1980 (and 1976, nearly defeating a sitting President at the Republican National Convention) and governed from for most of the 1980s. The argument that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t make it in today’s GOP has been made many times in the past, but I tend to agree with Rick Moran that it’s an argument that ignores not so much Reagan’s ideology as it existed at the time, but his political talents:

Reagan was the most ideological president in history up to that time. But his geniality and heartfelt passion for America — along with a pragmatic streak that allowed him to work with the Democratic majority in Tip O’Neill’s House to advance some of the most significant legislation of the 20th century — made him a winning politician, one of the most successful in American history.

How would those strengths play in today’s GOP? I think Dole and other critics are wrong to suggest that Reagan couldn’t have made it in the Republican party today. His gifts as a politician would have transcended any disagreements about policy that might have hurt him with many on the right today — just as they did in his own time. In fact, Reagan was never able to satisfy the right on almost anything and ended up hugely disappointing them when he began to deal with Soviet leader Gorbachev, passed  massive tax increases in 1982 and 1984,  signed off on immigration reform in 1986, and appointed less than conservative cabinet members in his second term.

Reagan would have done very well in any election from 1976 until today. But would his popularity have survived in the internet era? I think his opponents on the right would have been better organized and had a louder megaphone to amplify his weaknesses. But it’s hard to see him failing in any realistic political context.

It’s impossible to really get a right answer to this question, but I think Moran has a good point here. Ronald Reagan was perhaps the best campaigner that the GOP has elected in a long time. Certainly nobody that followed him has lived up to that part of his record except, perhaps, for Bill Clinton on the Democratic side. Those skills would have served him just as well in the modern era as they did in the 1980s.

More broadly, Dole’s comments will likely fall upon deaf ears inside the GOP itself. Although he was considered quite conservative during his time in office, the way the party has moved pretty far to his right since he left politics. Additionally, conservatives now view his 1996 defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton as proof for their (largely invalid) hypothesis that the GOP only wins when it nominates “conservative” candidates for President. Of course, the reality is that Clinton was likely unbeatable that year given his own popularity at the time and the state of the economy. Nonetheless, Dole has a point here. The GOP has become far too rigid in its ideology and essentially now acts in a manner that makes Congress nearly ungovernable. And I say that as someone who has never really been much of a Bob Dole fan.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    Nixon made mistakes, and I won’t defend him, but he is 1, 000 per cent smarter than than the average Republican legislator today. The EPA, the Clean Water Act, and the opening to China and the USSR all happened on his watch, and that’s all good.(Current Republicans would have opposed all of these, I’m sure.) They would have definitely opposed Nixon’s health care reform proposal, which was to the left of Obamacare.

    What’s sad is that liberals and Republican moderates now look back with fondness on the Republican Party of Nixon, Ford, Dole, and even Reagan. It’s a measure of how godawful the current Republican Party is. Makes you wonder how any sane person could vote for them…..

  2. al-Ameda says:

    The new wave of Republicans – like, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul – would rather burn down the current GOP ideological structure, and start over.

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave at what the GOP is today, even Bob Dole can tell you that..

  4. CSK says:

    I have a tendency to blame nearly everything that’s gone wrong with political discourse on Sarah Palin, but in this case, I think it’s especially valid to do so. I don’t know what her true motive is–she may just like the attention and money she gets from rabble-rousing–but she certainly has done a superb job of empowering the fringe right. It’s “my way or the highway” with this crew. And another one of their enablers is Mark Levin, whose most recent claim is that Darrell Issa didn’t investigate the IRS last year because Issa wanted to see the Tea party destroyed. Issa, you see, hates conservatives–despite the fact that he has a 91.25 rating from the American Conservative Union.

    How can you hold a sensible debate in a climate like that?

  5. @CSK:

    Palin is a symptom, not a cause.

  6. @stonetools:

    There’s no denying Nixon was smart, and his foreign policy initiatives, such as the opening to China, were quite extraordinary. That’s why I limited my comments to his domestic policies. Thins such as wage and price controls ended up doing far more harm than good, just to pick one example.

  7. @Mark Ivey:

    Goldwater made his opinions about the drift of the GOP that began in the post-Reagan era quite clear.

  8. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    But if they hadn’t had her to coalesce around and give voice to their resentments, would they be as much of a force?

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Brain dead and obstructionist. What do you know, Bob Dole and I have almost identical views on the GOP.

  10. steve s says:

    It’s ironic that nixon enacted a strategy that, now at it’s peak, would have him tossed aside as a RINO.

  11. CSK says:

    It occurs to me that it may be pointless to talk about fiscal policy, national security, or foreign policy in terms of the fringe right, because that’s not what they’re concerned with, though they may pretend otherwise. Their real concern is with The Four Gs: God, Guns, Gays, and Gynecology (abortion). Get God back into public life, get guns into everyone’s hands, get gays back in the closet, prohibit abortion for any reason, and we’ll all be living in paradise again.

    I don’t know how big this group is, nor the real extent of their influence. I do know they appear to hate everyone in Washington but for Ted Cruz.

  12. Gustopher says:

    To be honest, a Republican Party that wouldn’t have been friendly to Richard Nixon isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not only was he corrupt, but

    Corruption isn’t the reason he would be persona not grata in the Republican Party of today. FL Gov. Rick Scott is as corrupt as they come, and he is still welcome.

    Mind you, I would vote for a corrupt Democrat over an honest Republican these days, as I think the Republican policies will do far more damage to the working poor than pretty much any level of corruption. So I guess I cannot hold Gov. Scott against the Republicans that much.

  13. anjin-san says:

    I don’t agree with Dole’s politics at all, but he has always been a country before party guy who commanded respect from pretty much everybody. He proved his commitment to his country with deeds, not words. His integrity is not in question.

    He would not last 10 minutes in today’s GOP.

  14. Latino_in_Boston says:

    The symptoms are all there for everyone to see. (My God, Bob Dole?) But at the moment the GOP is so blind that it sees its symptoms of a possibly fatal disease and thinks they are signs they are recovering. Benghazi, means that the President will be removed soon, don’t you know?

    All they need is to say the same thing (but louder? slower and louder?) over and over and over and America will finally see it.

    Unfortunately, we will all be paying the price until they either die and someone takes their place, or until they start fighting the disease with some actual moderation.

  15. al-Ameda says:


    I don’t agree with Dole’s politics at all, but he has always been a country before party guy who commanded respect from pretty much everybody.

    And, Chuck Hagel is the younger version of that model. Just look at the treatment Hagel got from the young GOP turks at the recent confirmation hearings. The GOP treated him to recrimination and Ted Cruz questioned his loyalty by insinuating unsavory North Korean business connections. Lovely.

  16. SoWhat says:

    This “Reagan couldn’t make it in the GOP today” is one of the lamest talking points ever and I figure the only Dole is parroting it is because he’s 90 years old.

    Let’s get real: JFK couldn’t make it in the Dem Party today with his muscular foreign policy and his promotion of tax cuts—to say nothing of his ordering assassinations of foreign leaders and his active extra-marital love life.

    And speaking of extra-marital love life, I doubt if even Bill Clinton could make it in the Dem Party today with his DOMA, NAFTA, balanced budget, and “the era of big government is over”.

    The Dems like to think they have remained stationary while the GOP has moved right—this defies reality and facts on the ground; the Dems have moved left and the GOP has moved right.

    Which proves the Dems really are the unreality-based community.

  17. LC says:

    Wait, so Doug IS able to respond to comments?

  18. Surreal American says:


    Let’s get real: JFK couldn’t make it in the Dem Party today with his muscular foreign policy and his promotion of tax cuts—to say nothing of his ordering assassinations of foreign leaders and his active extra-marital love life.

    That would be the same modern Democratic administration with its drone assassination policies and its approval of most of the Bush tax cuts this year?

    And speaking of extra-marital love life, I doubt if even Bill Clinton could make it in the Dem Party today with his DOMA, NAFTA, balanced budget, and “the era of big government is over”.

    You mean the same Bill Clinton who spoke at the 2012 DNC convention? Well, I guess that’s not a big deal since the GOP invited its last U.S. president to speak…oh wait, no it didn’t.

    Take a gander at reality sometime and then get back to us on the topic of who is “reality-based” and who isn’t.

  19. Latino_in_Boston says:


    This is exactly what I’m talking about. You confuse reactions to particular events as the ideological moorings of the party. Kennedy advocated tax cuts, for example, when the highest tax rate was 70%. Today, it’s 35%, less than half. If he was still advocating for tax cuts, he would be doing it in a completely different world. Same goes for DOMA, because it wasn’t that the Democrats were not pro same-sex marriage, it’s that no one was. Now, the public supports it by over 50%. So if anyone moved left, it was the public.

    Then there are really some confusing parts. You think that a Democrat that orders the assassination of foreign leaders or supports free trade agreements like NAFTA would be kicked out of the party today? Have you heard of Obama’s drone policy? or of his leadership in trying to create the TransPacific Partnership (the potentially largest free trade area in the world, that would include the largest economies in the Pacific with the exception of China and South Korea?).

    Either way, perhaps there’s some mathematical way of checking this, and not just rely on anecdotal evidence. Good thing, political scientists have looked at this. Here’s a graph from Poole et. al., political scientists that have looked at this.

    Their verdict? “Indeed, we find that contemporary polarization is not only real — the ideological distance between the parties has grown dramatically since the 1970s — but also that it is asymmetric — congressional Republicans have moved farther away from the center than Democrats during this period.”

    As to your specific contention, they say: “To be sure, political polarization is not entirely asymmetric. Congressional Democrats have moved slightly to the left during this period, but most of this is a product of the disappearance of conservative Southern “Blue Dog” Democrats. But the northern Democrats of the 1970s are ideologically indistinguishable from their present-day counterparts, with average scores around -0.4.”

  20. Jr says:

    I hate when Right wingers bring up the Kennedy’s tax cuts because it is so misleading. JFK’s tax cuts were demand-side, which is what every Democratic president since has proposed.

    Also, saying Clinton wouldn’t make it as a Democrat today is laughable. “The New Democrat” is basically the backbone of the party, hell the current president is a “New Democrat”.

  21. Me Me Me says:
  22. superdestroyer says:


    People complain that the Republicans will not compromise with Democrats (actually give the Democrats whatever they want). Yet, why would anyone who is conservative want to compromise with a group that operates from the POV of cliches and insults.

    When the main push of the Democrats is that they are the cool kids and should be able to do whatever they want, it should be easy to understand why conservatives do not want to concede any issue.

  23. superdestroyer says:


    But liberals like Progressives because Dole did not mind being the tax collector for the welfare state and generally would give Democrats whatever they wanted as long as he brought home some pork to Kansas. The Republican Party is irrelevant today because it has had to many leader like Dole who were visionless, have zero leadership ability, and who suck up too much to big money donors who support policy positions that are bad for the rank and file Republicans.

  24. Stan says:

    @superdestroyer: Somebody needs to explain to me why working class Republicans in Kansas are better off without Medicaid. Maybe you could give it a shot.

  25. superdestroyer says:


    And I mentioned Medicaid where? The Republicans in Kansas would be off with fewer people needing welfare including Medicaid. Yet, the Democrats have supported one program after another to include its current support for comprehensive immigraiton reform that will increase the number (and percentage of the population) and are eligible for Medicaid. The real question for the future is can a country exist when virtually no one in Kansas pays taxes and more than 50% of the population is eligible for a quotas, set asides, government check, or subsidy?

  26. Caj says:

    Bob Dole is quite right. The lunatics have taken over the asylum in the Republican Party. Which of course he’ll now no longer be part of. He will be downgraded to a RINO. Just like everyone who dares to speak out against the lunatic fringe in charge right now.

  27. dmhlt says:

    @Mark Ivey:

    Some timely, great Goldwater quotes:

    “Mark my words, if and when these preachers get hold of the (Republican) party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God and they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    … AND

    I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

    … AND

    I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass. (John Dean claims he said “right in the nuts“)

  28. Stan says:

    @superdestroyer: As you ought to know, the problem with Kansas and with every other state is that the world’s supply of unskilled and semiskilled labor has more than doubled in the last 30 years due to technological change and the effective end of communism in China. So American workers, the kind of guys I went to high school with in the early 50’s, can’t make a decent living anymore in manufacturing. That’s the primary reason for our malaise. A strong secondary reason is the gross selfishness of our captains of industry and finance, as shown by the very large piece of the pie they’ve ripped off for themselves.

    An intelligent American government would have cushioned the blow by adapting proven methods – a stronger welfare state, improved training, perhaps a German style apprentice program – to American conditions. This is impossible as long as one of our great parties, mine, is paralyzed by timidity, and the other, yours, is in the grips of right wing ideology.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @ al-Ameda

    Just look at the treatment Hagel got from the young GOP turks at the recent confirmation hearings.

    I think this says it all:


    Served in the United States Army infantry in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 (volunteered, not drafted)
    Infantry squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division
    Combat Infantryman Badge
    Army Commendation Medal
    Two Purple Hearts


    North American Debating Championship
    World Universities Debating Championship

  30. Ed says:

    Good grief. Babbling Bob Doled is still alive.

    Newt has this fraud pegged 30 years ago. All he wanted to be was the “Tax Collector for the Welfare State.”

    We went with his past-expiration-date RINO-types in 1994 (lost), 2008 (lost) and 2012 (lost).

    Hey Babbling Bob. Can’t you see that by listening to the Bob Michels and Bob Doles of the world we gotten an enormous, nay monstrous federal Leviathan far beyone anything ever envisioned by the founding fathers? When was the last time you looked at the Constitution?

    Never mind. You’re as irrelvant now as yoy were in 1994. Please go away and let the rest of us try to undo what you and your ilk have been doing to the country for the last 60 years.


  31. Stan says:

    @Ed: In one sense I agree with you. Newt is much more representative of the Republican party than Bob Dole. He’s its very essence: the dedicated scholar who attended graduate school rather than getting shot up in Vietnam, the upholder of the sanctity of marriage, and Sheldon Adelson’s poodle. He’s today’s Mr. Republican.

  32. superdestroyer says:



    It is hard to argue that the Democrats really care about those blue collar types from the 1950 when their policies since the mid-1960’s has been to demographic replace them with immigrants and poor minorities. How do you reconcile the idea of raising wages of blue collar Americans with comprehensive immigration reform that will not only lower the wages of most blue collar Americans but raise the costs of living in a good neighborhood with a good school.

  33. William says:

    Bob Dole was spot on with his criticism of the Republican Party. They have gone so far to the Right Wing that they are nothing more than obstructionists. The Democrats in many ways are no better.

    But there is a reason why the Republicans are obstructing the business of good government.

    The Republican Party and the TEA Party are dominated and controlled by Christian Reconstructionists called Dominionists. They are theocrats who wish to replace our American Republic with a Christian fascist state. For the past 30 years they have sought to legislate Old Testament Levitical Law, more commonly called Biblical Law, as the law of the land.

    They are called Dominionists because of their interpretation of Gen. 1:28, where God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth. Whereas most Christians see this as God commanding mankind to be good stewards of the Earth, Dominionists see this as God giving them a mandate to gain control of governments and to rule nations to help usher in the Second Coming of Christ by preparing for the Battle of Armageddon.

    In their writings and speeches to their Republican Right-Wing Conservative base, whom they have deceived, Dominioinsts have clearly indicated that they want to transform America, thus reconstructing, on every level of society into a Christian Nation. Part of this reconstructing of America will be to impose the death penalty on those whom they consider undesirables: Christians who are not Dominionists, homosexuals, unruly children, people of other religions, atheists, anybody who will not convert to their brand of Christianity. They are dangerous: Dominionists cannot be reasoned with, they subvert the Constitution, and they will do anything to gain power and control over all of us. Domininoists are not your friend.

    What is more disturbing than the Dominionist takeover of the Republican Party is their infiltration of the U.S. Military in all branches. They have done this through the influence of parachurches in the chaplaincy program. Dominionists are now infesting the rank and file as well as the chain of command. We now have a weaponized missionary organization that is paid by the government.

    Combine that fact with another fact of the two clauses, 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA of 2012 (National Defense and Authorization Act) which gives the U.S. Military the authority on orders of the President to detain American citizens indefinitely on American soil with no need for evidence, and you have the makings of an Orwellian nightmare.
    These are the facts. If anyone reading this thinks this is all alarmist or conspiratorial thinking, then you should do your homework and research Dominionism. Start with Theocracy Watch, God’s Own Party,,, and proceed from there.

    It is time to wake up, look around you, and become aware, and fight the Dominioinsts. What is at stake is nothing more than our rights and freedoms and our democratic way of life.

  34. Stan says:

    @superdestroyer: Legalizing the status of immigrants will give them the protections of American labor law — workman’s compensation, a minimum wage floor, Social Security, and Medicare. I think this is bound to improve the status of all workers. But you’ve got a point, and it’s something that worries me about immigration reform.

  35. Bob Dole never understood Ronald Reagan or believed in Reagan’s leadership or agenda. Walter Mondale adored Bob Dole. No wonder the nonagenerarian’s comments are so welcome on this blog.

  36. superdestroyer says:


    Putting 10-20 million illegal aliens on the path to citizenship where they sponsor more family members coming to the U.S. does little for the middle class that are citizens. Combining new immigration initiatives and the push for massive numbers of H1 B visas not only will pay be lower for blue collar workers but will be lower for people who work in technology and manufacturing. Adding millionf of people who will be tax consumers instead of payers is a kick in the teeth for the middle class.