Ever wondered what the opposite of an endorsement is? It’s this letter from Bob Dole on Thursday, blasting Newt Gingrich five days before the Florida primary.
Dole calls Gingrich a “one-man band who rarely took advice,” who “had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall.” He writes that “if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer.”
But the climax comes in a shining sentence that beggars description. During Dole’s run for president in 1996:
“Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty ice-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.”
First Newt’s landing on the moon. Then he’s wandering around to Bob Dole’s campaign headquarters with symbolic empty ice buckets. Or maybe this is just a nightmare Bob Dole had that he’s trying to exorcise through letter-writing.
I have no idea what this means. I suspect Bob Dole does not either.
The trouble with Newt is that you can say a thing like this and everyone who reads it will nod understandingly. “Seems like the Newt I know,” they mutter. This is a man who wanted to put mirrors in space to light the streets. An empty ice bucket? A symbol? Of what? Why? Who on earth knows! Dole doesn’t. Neither does anyone else.
“I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it.”
It is a sentence that only Bob Dole could have uttered, but it captures the Gingrich problem pretty well.
Some people find this quality in Gingrich impressive. Most — Dole included — find it troubling.
Let’s see what Florida thinks.
Alexandra Petri is a member of The Washington Post’s editorial staff.