Republicans have savored the past week as President Obama and his administration reeled from congressional hearings into scandals involving the IRS, the Justice Department and other agencies.
Some Republican leaders believe they can capitalize on Obama’s woes in the coming months to rebuild their party after a disappointing performance in last November’s election – with an eye toward taking back control of the Senate in 2014.
But the national party has shifted so far to the right in recent years that even President Ronald Reagan would have trouble today finding a home in the GOP, former Republican senator Bob Dole said Sunday.
“Reagan couldn’t have made it,” Dole said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that he, too, would probably be deemed too moderate and unacceptable by today’s Tea-Party conservative standards. “Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, ’cause he had ideas,” said Dole, a decorated World War II veteran who overcame serious wounds to go on to a highly successful career in politics.
Dole said partly leaders and activists need to take a breather and rethink their whole strategy for rebuilding the GOP. “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. Spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” Dole said.
Dole, 89, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, in some ways was echoing Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’s blistering assessment of the party’s problems delivered last March, based on the results of a months-long post-election review. Priebus urged his party to reinvent itself and officially endorse immigration reform.
Priebus said at the time: “There’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
A few Senate Republicans have heeded Priebus’s admonition to get behind immigration reform as a way of luring Hispanic voters into the GOP fold and are backing the “Gang of Eight" bipartisan proposal. In contrast, many House Republicans oppose comprehensive immigration reform that would provide millions of illegal immigrant a pathway to citizenship partly because they believe it wouldn’t be a path to vote Republican.
Moreover, more traditional conservatives like Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are sharply at odds with the policies and tactics of newcomer Tea Party conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Paul charged Sunday that Obama is losing the “moral authority” to lead the country. “I think the constellation of these three scandals really takes away from the president's moral authority to lead the nation,” Paul said on ABC's “This Week.” “No one questions his legal authority. But I really think he’s losing the moral authority to lead this nation.”
During his interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, former Senator Dole also blamed the president for Washington’s current state of gridlock, saying that Obama has done a poor job of trying to bridge divides between the capital’s ideological camps.
“I think that the president … lacks communication skills with his own party, let alone the Republican Party. And he’s on the road too much,” Dole said, adding slyly that Obama was a “good golfer.”
Obama in recent months has waged a “charm offensive” with Republicans on Capitol Hill in an effort to gain support for his budget and tax ideas. But he has little to show for it and now is operating from a weakened position, in the wake of the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups. Dole thinks Obama was too late in trying to reach out to Republicans.
“I think one mistake he’s made was not getting together more with Congress early on in his first administration,” Dole said. “There’s nothing like knowing the person you are talking to on the telephone, if you had an opportunity to sit down with that person and visit - not about anything, but just visit.”