Dole stands by Gingrich criticism

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) stood by his harsh criticism of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Thursday, declaring that “what I said about him is true.”

Dole slammed Gingrich before last week’s Florida primary, warning the former Speaker would hurt the Republican Party as its nominee in the fall.

Dole on Thursday said Gingrich “was just a hard guy to work with because he was a one-man band. He’s a very smart guy and a great debater and probably a wonderful college professor, but it was always his way or the highway.”

ADVERTISEMENT
He predicted that Mitt Romney is likely to sew up the GOP nomination in this month’s round of primaries and caucuses.

Romney will “probably win in Nevada,” which holds caucuses on Saturday, “and if he keeps on, I think the whole game could end soon,” Dole said.

Six other states are voting on the GOP candidates this month, by way of caucuses in Maine, Colorado and Minnesota and primaries in Missouri, Arizona and Michigan. Romney is favored in most of those contests following his lopsided win in Tuesday’s Florida primary.

“I think he’s got what it takes, with his proven business background, and his character is unassailed,” the 88-year-old former GOP presidential nominee said in an interview at his office at Alston & Bird, where he heads the law firm’s government affairs practice.

Romney has sometimes been compared to Dole, who failed to defeat Democrat Bill Clinton in a race that has some parallels to the 2012 campaign. As in 1996, Romney is a Republican trying to defeat a Democratic incumbent president just two years after Republicans won control of the House.

Dole said, “Some say he’s a little bit stiff” — a criticism he faced himself in 1996, and in 1976 when he was President Ford’s running mate — “but I think after the last two debates, that’s not a problem.”

While Dole left little doubt he hopes Romney will be the GOP nominee, he also had kind words for President Obama. “I like him as a person. He’s been very nice to me. He came to see me at Walter Reed last year” — where Dole was hospitalized for 10 months for pneumonia after undergoing knee surgery — “and said he wished I was still in the Senate. We’ve worked with the White House on a couple of issues,” Dole noted, including combating hunger in the United States and around the globe.

On other topics, Dole, whose wife, Elizabeth, ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 and served one term as senator from North Carolina before losing her seat in 2008, said:

• He hopes the GOP candidates “are going to tone down” their "increasingly bitter rhetoric” in the coming months;

• He has no one he would like to see as Romney’s running mate, if he is nominated, but said “he needs to pick a mainstream conservative, not somebody way out there who’ll appeal to evangelicals.”

• He feels the rise of the so-called super-PACs that can contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns are distorting the electoral process by putting candidates who are not well-known at a disadvantage.

• He declined to offer an assessment of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) but said the Senate “was more collegial” when he served in it. He pointed out that he joined fellow former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and George Mitchell (D-Maine) in 2007 to found the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank, to develop bipartisan support for federal policies.

• He said the odds are that Republicans will regain control of the Senate this fall because Democrats have to defend far more seats than Republicans, and have many vulnerable incumbents.

• He noted that on March 21, he and Baker will be honored for their combined hundred years of service in Congress.

• He said “in hindsight, I probably would have some regrets” about his support for the war in Iraq, and was pleased by the Obama administration’s decision ordering early withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

• He said his health is “pretty good” although he suffers from back pains, for which he received an injection on Tuesday.