Bob Martinez says Bob Dole is wrong: Ronald Reagan would make it in today's GOP

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"I love Bob Dole, but I don't agree with him," the former Tampa mayor said. "You have to remember when Reagan won, the Republicans were not doing well and that changed Florida. He brought in the conservatives, including Democrats who were conservative. I think what you've got now is more parity in government, it's not lopsided one way or another, and as a result you find more debate. It's unfortunate sometimes that the debate gets out of hand. But when you have two parties that disagree on anything — whether it's labor and management, wherever they're kind of equal in strength — you find more debate. Sometimes it gets vitriolic. It's unfortunate. It shouldn't happen but it does. But I think Ronald Reagan would get elected with this current crop of Republicans."

Dole also said, "I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee [the RNC]: 'Doors closed for repairs until New Year's Day,' and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas."

Of course, he isn't the first GOP luminary to openly speculate that the hard right conversion of the party — particularly after the election of Barack Obama and the ascension of the Tea Party — has made it harder for establishment Republicans.

In the past year, both Jeb Bush and Colin Powell have expressed similar comments.

While I had the former mayor and governor's attention, I asked him about the crucial issue of immigration reform, which officials from the Republican National Committee said is essential if they want to remain viable with the growing Latino electorate — especially after the thumping that Mitt Romney received from that demographic in 2012.

"... I think they want to do it in a way that it won't happen like '86 when they reached a deal, and it was supposed to secure the border, and obviously we're here again 25 years (later) ... If we fix it this time, does it stay fixed? Or do we come back in 25 years and do it all over again because it didn't get done?"

When asked about Republican skeptics taking shots at Rubio about immigration, Martinez shot back that there are also Democratic party skeptics, "so let's get that straight."

"I think they need to do something. I'm not following it anymore, I can't get into the weeds with you. Clearly it's something that needs to be addressed. Whether it's 11 million or 15 million, who knows how many millions are here. No one's going to put a gun to their back to drive them out of the country. They're going to be here, their kids are going to be born here, and they might as well resolve the issue, because we're not the type of society that drives people and abandon them. We shouldn't, and we don't, so therefore you might as well look for a solution."

  • Bob Martinez

Bob Martinez — who ended his mayoral tenure in 1986 to become governor of the Sunshine State — was among the former mayors fielding questions from local reporters after yesterday's news conference regarding the final phase of the Riverwalk at Curtis Hixon Park.

Now 78, Martinez still looks in damn good shape. While others wanted to talk to him about various segments of the Riverwalk, I wanted to ask the longtime Republican if he agreed with former Senator Bob Dole's recent comments that the GOP has gone so far to the right in recent decades that their icon, Ronald Reagan, wouldn't be welcome in the party these days.

Martinez disagreed.

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