Washington — Dole out, Bush in. After two weeks of hesitation, Bob Dole made it official yesterday. He got out of the Republican presidential race, leaving the field wide open for George Bush to be the party's nominee.
It was no surprise. Ever since Senator Dole's political hopes blew away on Super Tuesday, he had struggled on with gritty determination, but without much chance of victory. Money dried up, and polls went down.
``It was time to stop getting beaten up,'' a Dole aide confided. ``Bush was pulling ahead everywhere with huge margins.''
White House chief of staff Howard Baker Jr., himself a presidential loser in 1980, told Mr. Dole by telephone: ``I've been there. I know how it feels.'' Mr. Baker said Dole still had ``a major role to play'' in Washington.
Dole had presaged his decision in recent speeches. For the past week, he had ignored his Republican rival while tearing into Democrats, especially on Central American policy and the budget deficit.
The senator's failure in 1988 has been well documented: campaign blunders in New Hampshire, lack of a strong message, failure to exploit Bush mistakes.
Dole's exit allows Republicans nearly five months to pull together before the party's national convention in New Orleans in August. During that time, Mr. Bush can organize his general-election team and begin hammering away at his Democratic rivals.
Ironically, as his campaign sagged, Dole noted that the substance of what he was saying seemed to get more attention in the news media.
Even though he knew the end was near, Dole recently began laying out in detail his ideas about foreign policy. He also prodded Bush to open up the Republican Party to a wider constituency.
Dole, the Senate minority leader, has a great deal at stake in broadening the GOP. Without more support from Hispanics, blacks, and women, it will be difficult for the party to regain its Senate majority and for Dole to assume a greater role in Washington.
Reaching out to a wider constituency will require Republican leaders to be ``open to all,'' Dole told an audience this week.
``We must cast off the restrictions of privilege and class. We must offer help to those who need it. We must support and defend civil rights.''
Republicans, who often duck such issues as poverty and homelessness, must open their eyes, Dole said.
``Our leaders should not be timid about discussing issues that affect the homeless and the hungry. We must speak out on issues like drugs, day care, the environment, education, long-term health care, medicaid, and medicare, to mention just a few.
``We must, above all, give more Americans a reason to come our way and at the same time strengthen the commitment of our staunchest supporters.''
It was those views that Dole had hoped to trumpet in the fall. He was clearly concerned that Bush, whom he considered a ``silver spoon'' candidate, would not understand the hopes and concerns of common Americans.
He was convinced that to widen the appeal of the party, Republicans might need to support new government responsibilities - paid for by savings in other parts of the budget.
He talked about adding long-term health care for more than a million older Americans; home-based child care for 5 million children; and a tripling of efforts to fight illegal drugs.
But in recent days, Dole's sharpest words have been reserved for Democrats, especially on the issue of Central America and the Nicaraguan contras.
In a speech last week, he recalled the words of Harry Truman: ``It must be the policy of the United States to support free people being challenged by communist threats both from within and without.''
But in Central America, Democrats have replaced the Monroe Doctrine with the ``Dukakis doctrine,'' Dole said.
Under the Dukakis doctrine, the United States ``has no choice but to tolerate the existence of Soviet client states wherever subversion might install them,'' Dole said.
The Dukakis doctrine ``tells us over and over again that America must not be too forceful. It must mistrust its own power. It must not antagonize its enemies, or exert itself too strenuously in behalf of its friends.''
The struggle in Central America is ``as symbolic for our time as Hitler's brazen aggression was for an earlier generation,'' Dole said. Democrats are guilty of ``a failure of nerve as well as a failure of vision'' in meeting that challenge.
Dole hoped to carry that message into the White House this year. Some analysts suggest he could still get the chance - perhaps as Bush's running mate.
Others think Dole may already be looking further ahead to 1992. Should Bush lose this year, Dole could be in a frontrunner position in the next presidential campaign.