Republican heavyweight Bob Dole has endorsed Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid following the exit of early favorite Jeb Bush.
The former Kansas Senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee said Rubio was a “hard worker” who wanted to help the Republican Party prosper, but warned that Donald Trump had a very real chance of stealing the Oval Office in November.
Dole made the endorsement on ABC’s Political Powerhouse podcast on Monday, after telling hosts Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein that he had been disappointed to see former Florida Governor Jeb Bush exit the 2016 race.
“Now that my good friend Jeb Bush is no longer running, I’m supporting Rubio,” Dole said. “He worked for my ’96 campaign in Dade County, Florida, and so I’ve had an acquaintance with him way back in ’96 when he was a hard worker.”
Despite demonstrating a historic show up support for Rubio’s establishment rival, John Kasich, Dole added that Rubio was “probably a better candidate.”
“And he’s young,” Dole said. “He wants to grow the party as opposed to Cruz. I don’t know what he wants to grow.”
Although Dole had already offered Jeb Bush his official endorsement last November, the former senator had recently been flirting with the idea of throwing in his lot with Marco Rubio in the run up to Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
“I hope Rubio finishes second,” Dole told National Review last week. “We have to have a nominee, Republicans, who can bring the party together and reach out to moderates and independents and not just the far right-wing.”
Dole’s wish was ultimately granted. Marco Rubio finished second in Saturday’s primary, earning 22.5 percent of the Republican vote. Texas Senator Ted Cruz followed closely with 22.3 percent, while Jeb Bush came in fourth place with just 7.8 percent of the vote.
The pitiful showing turned out to be the last straw for Bush, who finally withdrew his name from the Republican race over the weekend.
Meanwhile, outspoken upstart Donald Trump came away with all of South Carolina’s 50 delegates after winning Saturday’s primary with a whopping 32.5 percent of the vote.
Despite offering Rubio his official endorsement on Monday, Dole also warned that the Florida Senator was running out of time in order to slow Trump’s momentum.
“If [Trump] has a good day on Super Tuesday, that’s going to be hard to deny him the nomination,” Dole said. “And if reality sets in and he’s gonna start counting enough delegates, we’ve got to hope he’ll be a good president.”
Super Tuesday is set to fall on March 1 this year, and will see voters in 13 states hit the polls simultaneously. Yet Republican candidates will first go head-to-head in Nevada on Tuesday, where Donald Trump currently enjoys a commanding lead in the polls. Analysts are predicting a second-place finish for Ted Cruz, with Rubio expected to come in third.
Trump is riding a comfortable margin of over 16 points nationwide.
According to Bob Dole, if Trump does ultimately earn the Republican nomination, he’ll need to “tone down” his outlandish rhetoric.
“Trump has to start acting like a presidential candidate and tone down the rhetoric and don’t insult anybody,” Dole said. “He’s got to understand the presidency is an overwhelming position and you can’t do it alone, and you gotta have qualified people with some experience. You can’t bring in all the outsiders.”
Dole also said that Trump might end up surprising quite a few voters with his leadership capabilities, and went on to add that he would be happy to become a Trump advisor.
Despite the fickle nature of Dole’s endorsement, it signifies a party-wide push to establish Rubio as the Republican establishment’s sole hope of clinching the Oval Office in November.
Following Jeb Bush’s inevitable exit from the Republican race, a gaggle of party leaders have decided to toss their support behind Rubio this week. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis both endorsed Rubio on Monday. It also emerged that the suspended campaign of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had already sold its email list of supporters and donors to the Rubio campaign.
Rubio will certainly need all the help he can get. According to pollsters at RealClearPolitics, the Florida Senator is currently polling at just 16 percent.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]