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Bob Dole says Reagan couldn't make it in today's GOP. Is he right?

Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been accepted in today's GOP. Maybe, like Dole, he just wouldn't have understood today's D.C.

By Staff writer / May 26, 2013

Former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, seen here in 2012, told Fox News Sunday that the Republican Party has become too confrontational and lacks big ideas.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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When President Obama says Ronald Reagan would no longer win a Republican primary, as he did in the heat of the 2012 presidential election, Grand Old Partyers are probably not inclined to spend too much time wondering where it all went wrong.

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But when a former Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, says essentially the same thing on Fox News, as he did Sunday ... well, Grand Old Partyers are probably still not going to get too worked up about it. But it might at least perk their ears a bit more.

The challenges facing the national Republican Party are well known, having been thrown into sharp relief last November. Mr. Obama soundly defeated Republican candidate Mitt Romney among women, minorities, and youth. In a race taking place amid a largely stagnant economy, a president seen as extremely vulnerable won the Electoral College tally, 332 to 206.

It's a far cry from the days when Mr. Reagan won 49 of 50 states in 1984. Back then, there were Reagan Democrats. These days, it seems, there aren't even Bob Dole Republicans. 

"Reagan couldn't have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn't have made it, because he had ideas. We might've made it, but I doubt it," he said on Fox News Sunday.

Not content with saying that the most illustrious Republican leader of the past century would have been run out of his own party today because he had "ideas," Mr. Dole went further.

"They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says 'Closed for repairs,' until New Year's Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas," he said.

We're guessing that he's now somewhere behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the list of prospective keynote speakers at next year's CPAC convention.

To some, his comments will sound like the sour grapes of a man whose time has passed. But that might be the very reason they are so telling.

There is no question Dole is a different political animal from many of the Republicans (or Democrats) currently on Capitol Hill. He was a legislator in what is increasingly becoming an outdated sense of the word: Someone who made deals. Yes, often in the proverbial smoke-filled backrooms. Yes, often greased with the pork of pet projects for legislators' districts. But deals nonetheless. 

In his comments to Fox News, Dole did not just single out Republicans for their intransigence. He looked to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with befuddlement, too. 

"I think as a president, he lacks communication skills with his own party, let alone the Republican Party. And he's on the road too much," he said.

Translation: The president, like the Republicans, doesn't know how to make deals.

For Dole, who served as a senator from Kansas for 27 years, the idea of a Washington that doesn't know how to make deals is utterly foreign. It is Hollywood without egos, Detroit without automobiles, Atlanta without grits. Deals were Washington's very reason for being. Washington was political dealmaking. Without it, D.C. is just a bunch of squawking pinstripe suits.

Reagan was a part of that Washington. He made deals on immigration and on taxes. Bad ones, many conservatives would say. But deals nonetheless. They were part of his political DNA.

Could someone like that have passed the GOP's orthodoxy tests? Big ideas, after all, are just that – reaching across political lines.

The answer is not "yes" or "no." Like LeBron vs. Jordan, the answer is that different people adapt to different times. Would Reagan have rejected the current tea party-fueled ethic of political principles über alles and become another Arlen Specter? Or would he, like House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio or Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona – men who were once more like Dole – simply have adapted to the political realities of the day.

That is an unanswerable question. But Dole is asking it.

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