Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole said the current leading presidential candidates for 2016 are “over the top” and “extreme” and he might “oversleep” if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the party’s nominee.
Dole, the party’s 1996 Republican presidential nominee, said in an interview with MSNBC that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who’s been polling consistently in the single digits, is the “most qualified” to be president. But he said that even Ronald Reagan would have trouble getting the nomination today.
“I thought this was going to be the year of the governor,” said Dole, 92, who lost the 1996 election to President Bill Clinton. “Now we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”
Dole made his comments before Trump called for the U.S. to stop allowing Muslims to enter the country, even Muslim Americans traveling abroad. Republican leaders from House Speaker Paul Ryan to former Vice President Dick Cheney have since condemned Trump’s remarks and said they represent neither Republican nor conservative principles.
“He says things over the top and people applaud,” Dole said of Trump. “He’s insulted about every other candidate.”
While Dole said he wouldn’t go as far as voting for a Democrat for president, he said it would be “difficult” if Cruz became the nominee.
“I might oversleep that day,” he said.
Dole said Cruz is “so extreme” and “not a traditional Republican conservative.”
Dole bristled at Cruz’s speeches in which he said the party had lost presidential elections in 1996, 2008 and 2012 because it had nominated mainstream Republicans such as Dole, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“The inference was that we were a bunch of liberals and he was the true conservative,” Dole said. “He uses the word conservative more than he ever uses the word Republican.”
Dole also said it was unbecoming of Cruz to call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky a “liar” on the Senate floor.
Dole served in the Senate from 1969 to 1996 and was majority leader twice: from 1985 to 1987 and in 1995 and 1996.
Dole also ran, unsuccessfully, for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and was President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.
Dole said last month that he liked “nearly all” of the Republican presidential candidates, but he endorsed Bush, who was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.
“He is the tortoise in the race,” Dole told MSNBC. “I think he’ll make it.”