Bob Dole: Romney Must Answer for Health Care Mandates

(Image Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney's campaign sent out a short statement of support this morning from 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole,  boosting Romney in Saturday's Kansas caucuses.

We thought we'd email Dole for some elaboration. He called back.

Dole thinks Romney is in a tough spot over his role in crafting the Massachusetts health plan that the White House says was a blueprint for ObamaCare. He called it a liability for Romney but said it wasn't "fatal."

"In the first place, you're dealing with the state level rather than the national level," Dole said. "And I haven't gone over the Massachusetts plan, but there are mandates in it. That's the one thing that Romney has to answer to, about mandates."

Dole added: "But I think he's, you know, when he stands up and says, 'One of the first things I'm going to do is repeal ObamaCare' - of course the president can't repeal it. He's going to start the ball rolling."

A former senator, Dole predicted that Romney will surprise observers and do well in the upcoming primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. "I'm not sure about my home state of Kansas," Dole said, referring to Saturday's caucuses.

"We have a pretty conservative state, probably moderate to conservative, but I hope Romney's going to win Kansas," he said. "But that's just a hope."

Newt Gingrich has abandoned plans to campaign in Kansas, essentially making the contest a two-man race between Romney and Rick Santorum, who on Super Tuesday won over conservatives to win primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

"I don't know what the appeal is to Rick," Dole continued. "I mean, he's a great family man, and he's certainly a good person, but I don't see him as a leader. I don't believe he's had any real private experience and no position of leadership, well, high leadership in politics. So when you've got a person like Romney who's had it all - private sector, public sector - you know, he's done it all. And he's said he was in a state, Massachusetts, where it was about, I don't know, eight-to-one or seven-to-one or something like that Democrat, and he did a lot of things even though he had that big hill to overcome."

Dole said Santorum's surge is "near the end, or maybe it's already reached the end," and that "it's going to be almost mathematically impossible for Romney to lose." Noting that Gingrich isn't competing in Kansas, Dole said, "Maybe I helped a little."

He was referring to a statement he made in January about Gingrich in which he said, "Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand - that was a symbol of some sort for him - and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I'm not certain he knew either."

Asked to elaborate on that weird scene, Dole said: "Beats me. He shows up one day and has an empty bucket, and somebody says, 'Well, it has to do with spending.' I said, 'What does the empty bucket have to do with spending?' But I'm not sure that's what it was all about. Newt had a lot of ideas, and now and then, he might stumble into a good one."

Dole, 88, had trouble with his hearing aid at one point during the interview and jokingly asked that we put a disclaimer at the end of this story. So here it is, verbatim per his request:

"The interviewee didn't know what the questions were."