STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you tried to pick one person who represents mainstream Republican tradition, a good candidate would be Bob Dole. He first ran for office back in 1950. He later served as a U.S. senator for 27 years.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
You'll recall that Bob Dole was also the Republican nominee for president in 1996. Well, we wondered what advice he might have for this year's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. So we tracked Dole down at his desk at a law firm here in Washington.
Senator Dole, welcome to the program.
BOB DOLE: Thank you.
KELLY: Now, you have endorsed Donald Trump. Tell me what about him has persuaded you that he would make a good president.
DOLE: I've been a Republican all my life. And I know that both candidates are flawed. And Trump has done some things that would curl your hair, things that he shouldn't have said. Some Republicans say, well, I can't vote for Trump. I have an obligation to the party. I mean, what am I going to do? I can't vote for George Washington. So I'm supporting Donald Trump. I've talked to him twice and hope to talk to him again and just congratulate him for toning down the rhetoric and talking about the issues and not about people.
KELLY: As you have spoken to Mr. Trump, what kinds of things does he ask you? What kind of advice have you given him?
DOLE: We had a good visit. He sounded good to me on the phone. The last time, I suggested a couple of things - first of all, that Newt Gingrich would be an excellent choice for vice president because he knows the Congress better than anyone. And he also knows policy. And the second thing that I suggested was that if he'd just stop naming people in a derisive way.
KELLY: So a couple of pieces of advice there - it sounds like, one, you feel like he needs a vice president. He needs a running mate who knows Washington. Number two, tone down the rhetoric. Do you sense that that is happening now with Donald Trump?
DOLE: I think it's - he's on the right track. And if he gets off again on the wrong track, there're going to be a lot of disappointed people who are going to just stay home and not vote.
KELLY: If I may follow up on something you said earlier, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump to say, well, I can't vote for George Washington, so I guess I'm going to vote for Trump.
DOLE: Well, I was partly, you know, I'm just kidding, Mary Louise.
KELLY: (Laughter) But it sounds like you're still struggling with this a little bit.
DOLE: No, I've made up my mind. And that's why I'm trying to reach him. A young man who worked for me for years and went through a couple of campaigns is working with Trump. And I keep contact that way on what's really happening.
KELLY: A number of your former staffers have gone over to the Trump campaign. His campaign chairman and chief strategist, Paul Manafort, used to work for you. What's your sense of how they may be managing Trump?
DOLE: Well, I hope they manage Trump as they should. And - and I would hope he will announce his running mate before the convention. I'm the only former candidate who's going to be at the convention, I understand. And I'm going to try to be his senior adviser. I mean, I've learned a little over the years that might be helpful.
KELLY: Senator Dole, let me ask you for the long view on this process. We mentioned you first took office up in 1951. You are 92 years old, if I'm not mistaken.
DOLE: I'll be 93 soon.
KELLY: Happy birthday in advance.
KELLY: That is a long time to serve the Republican Party. And I wonder, as you look at your party today, what do you make of the state of it? Is there a word or two that comes to mind?
DOLE: Well, for a while, I thought it was going to be too far to the right with candidates like Cruz. I'm a traditional Republican conservative, where compromise is not a bad word. I remember Ronald Reagan telling me one day, Bob, I'm going to send this bill to Congress, and I want a hundred percent. And then he kind of got a twinkle in his eyes and said, well, if you can get me 70, that'd be great.
DOLE: So that - you know, those are the Republicans that I worked with. I mean, they'd - you can't always have your way. And you can't just say, I'm not going to do this or that except shut down the government. We've got to coalesce. We've got to bring the party together. I think some of these Republicans who are kind of holding out now - to change their mind if Trump continues to do a good job, particularly in his speeches.
KELLY: As someone who's been through this cycle many times and who has been the GOP presidential nominee - looking ahead toward the convention, I wonder, what do you think Donald Trump does not know now that he's about to learn?
DOLE: He's learning that policy is important. It's one thing to make soundbites. But you've got to have some meat on the bones. And number one is to surround himself with excellent, distinguished Americans for his cabinet. And that comes from the appointments you make.
DOLE: Anything you wish you'd known back in June, 1996 that you had to learn the hard way?
DOLE: Well, I wish I'd have won.
DOLE: I've been thinking about a recount, but I think it's too late.
KELLY: (Laughter) Well, we're only 20 years on. You never know. Senator Dole, great talking to you.
DOLE: Thank you.
KELLY: That's Bob Dole, former U.S. senator from Kansas and, as you heard, the 1996 Republican nominee for president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.