It is a clear sign that the Republican establishment is concerned about conservative rabble-rouser Ted Cruz that they would believe that Donald Trump, whose campaign has stunned the Washington elite, might be a better choice as their presidential nominee.
Bob Dole, the former US senator and the party's 1996 nominee, has joined a growing chorus of Republican voices speaking out against the freshman Texas senator, who has brought together conservatives and evangelical Christians with his bellicose anti-Washington rhetoric.
Since Christmas, Mr Cruz's popularity among Republican voters in Iowa, where the first ballot is held in 10 days, has risen, putting him in a dead heat with Mr Trump, the national frontrunner.
Mr Dole (92), an establishment grandee, told the New York Times on Wednesday that the party would suffer "cataclysmic" and "wholesale" losses in congressional and state elections if Cruz becomes the Republican nominee.
“I question his allegiance to the party,” Mr Dole said. “I don’t know how often you’ve heard him say the word ‘Republican’ – not very often.”
He views Mr Cruz as an “extremist” who is too far to the right of the party. “Nobody likes him,” he said.
Mild praise for Trump
Although he has endorsed
, the former Florida governor that the establishment had once banked on winning the nomination, Mr Dole offered mild praise for Mr Trump. He was somebody who could “probably work with
because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker”.
His resentment towards Mr Cruz stems from remarks the Texan made in 2014 when he criticised Mr Dole for not standing for conservative principles.
"Of course all of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney, " Mr Cruz sarcastically told the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Those remarks drew fire from another establishment figure, Republican senator John McCain, the 2008 nominee, who has maintained his animosity towards Mr Cruz into this election cycle. Mr McCain has backed Mr Trump in raising questions about whether the Texas senator's birth in Canada to an American mother might disqualify him from being president as he was not a "a natural-born American".
“I think it’s worth looking into,” McCain said.
Mr Dole's views on Mr Cruz echo remarks made by former president George W Bush who, while campaigning for his brother in October, told donors of his fellow Texan: "I just don't like the guy."
‘Anybody But Cruz’
Others in the “Anybody But Cruz” camp include Iowa’s Republican governor,
, who said this week that he wants to see the Texas senator lose in the state’s February 1st caucuses because of his opposition to subsidies for ethanol, which supports Iowa farmers.
It was just the second time during his six terms as governor that Mr Branstad had put his finger on the scale in the Iowa election.
Unease has grown in the Republican establishment as their one-time preferred nominee, Mr Bush, has failed to achieve any momentum. Other favourites running in the same "lane" of the party – Florida senator Marco Rubio, Ohio governor John Kasich and New Jersey governor Chris Christie – have also failed to gain traction nationally against Mr Trump's populist campaign and Mr Cruz's appeal as a conservative purist in the Iowa contest.
"It is is more than a single kamikaze establishment pilot, Terry Branstad, flying his airplane into Ted Cruz. It is a blitzkrieg," said Steffen Schmidt, a politics professor at Iowa State University. "They've got Bob Dole and I know there are other establishment Republicans sending out the word to important political people: we have got to crush Cruz now, we cannot let him win in Iowa."