Bob Dole's delinquent children

Today’s GOP is as much Gingrich’s party as Reagan’s or Nixon’s. Chest-beating often replaces prudence, the party frequently makes use of both libertarian and traditionalist themes without taking either of them very seriously.

Yet the party of Bob Dole had its flaws as well. Its fixation on accounting didn’t stop the federal government from getting bigger. Its identity as the party that paid for Democratic spending or aped the same programs on the cheap doomed it to permanent minority status. Its supposed affinity for ideas was marked by indifference to whether those ideas were Nixon’s wage and price controls or Reagan’s deregulation.

Much as the Greatest Generation gave way to the Baby Boomers, the Gingrich Republicans are the frustrated children of the Dole Republicans. Not content to be good losers or to play low-budget liberals, they went for broke. Gingrich was in many respects right to criticize Dole for being the “tax collector of the welfare state.” It was bad policy and worse politics, though it added up better than war and welfare with nobody paying the bill.

Nevertheless, the Baby Boomers always get their way. In his final presidential campaign, ahead of a competitive Arizona primary, Dole lamented with Barry Goldwater that they were now the liberals in the Republican Party. “I’m willing to be another Ronald Reagan if that’s what you want me to be,” Dole would also tell Republicans.