Bob Dole, 1923-2021

The longtime Senator and Vice Presidential and Presidential nominee is gone at 98.

NYT (“Bob Dole, Old Soldier and Stalwart of the Senate, Dies at 98“):

Bob Dole, the plain-spoken son of the prairie who overcame Dust Bowl deprivation in Kansas and grievous battle wounds in Italy to become the Senate majority leader and the last of the World War II generation to win his party’s nomination for president, died on Sunday. He was 98.


A Republican, Mr. Dole was one of the most durable political figures in the last decades of the last century. He was nominated for vice president in 1976 and then for president a full 20 years later. He spent a quarter-century in the Senate, where he was his party’s longest-serving leader until Mitch McConnell of Kentucky surpassed that record in June 2018.

President Biden called Mr. Dole “an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation.” He added, “To me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves.”

As the old soldiers of World War II faded away, Mr. Dole, who had been a lieutenant in the Army’s storied 10th Mountain Division and was wounded so severely on a battlefield that he was left for dead, came to personify the resilience of his generation. In his post-political career, he devoted himself to raising money for the World War II Memorial in Washington and spent weekends there welcoming visiting veterans.

In one of his last public appearances, in December 2018, he joined the line at the Capitol Rotunda where the body of former President George H.W. Bush, an erstwhile political rival and fellow veteran, lay in state. As an aide helped him up from his wheelchair, Mr. Dole, using his left hand because his right had been rendered useless by the war, saluted the flag-draped coffin of the last president to have served in World War II.

Politically, Mr. Dole was a man for all seasons, surviving for more than three decades in his party’s upper echelons, even though he was sometimes at odds ideologically with other Republican leaders.

He was national Republican chairman under President Richard M. Nixon in the early 1970s; the running mate to President Gerald R. Ford in 1976; chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s; and presidential standard-bearer during Newt Gingrich’s “revolution” of the mid-1990s, when the Republicans captured the House for the first time in 40 years and upended the power dynamic on Capitol Hill.

More recently, Mr. Dole, almost alone among his party’s old guard, endorsed Donald J. Trump for president in 2016, after his preferred candidates had fallen by the wayside. On the eve of his 93rd birthday, he was the only previous Republican presidential nominee to appear at the party’s convention in Cleveland, where Mr. Trump was nominated.

Mr. Dole himself ran three times for the White House and finally won the nomination in 1996, only to lose to President Bill Clinton after a historically disastrous campaign. He had given up his secure post in the Senate to pursue the presidency, although, as he acknowledged, he was more suited to the Senate.

As the Republican leader, he helped broker compromises that shaped much of the nation’s domestic and foreign policies.

WaPo (“Robert J. Dole, longtime GOP leader who sought presidency 3 times, dies at 98“):

Former U.S. senator Robert J. Dole, who overcame the hardships of dust bowl Kansas during the Depression and devastating injuries in World War II to run three times for the presidency and serve more than a decade as the Senate Republican leader, died Dec. 5 at 98.


Mr. Dole’s life was a trajectory played out against nine decades of America’s political, economic and cultural transformations, from his birth in a one-bedroom house to a career that lasted more than a third of a century under the Capitol dome, where he was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018.

Arriving in Washington a few months shy of his 38th birthday, a House backbencher from Kansas among the minority Republicans, he methodically climbed the Washington ladder, possessed of a talent for counting votes and finding the sort of consensus rarely achieved today.

His rise paralleled a personal evolution from abrasive partisan to a more statesmanlike role in which he worked across party lines to forge compromise, whether bailing out the Social Security system or recommending an overhaul of long-term care for wounded veterans.

Mr. Dole was often critical of the Republican Party after leaving office, telling audiences that it had become too conservative, with far-right positions that recalled those of his former rival Patrick J. Buchanan. But he remained loyal to the party and, in 2016, became the only former GOP presidential candidate to endorse Donald Trump, whose campaign advisers included former Dole lieutenants such as Paul Manafort.

Despite the harsh turn his party took under Trump, he said in an interview in July with USA Today that he regretted the former president’s loss in November but broke with him over claims of election fraud and was “sort of Trumped out.”

Kansas City Star (“Bob Dole — war hero, senator, presidential candidate, Kansan — dies at 98“):

Bob Dole, a son of the Kansas Dust Bowl who survived a crippling barrage of Nazi fire on an Italian hillside to lead his party in the U.S. Senate, but who fell short of his highest ambition, the presidency, died Sunday. He was 98.

Proud, uncommonly driven and possessed of a dark, self-effacing wit, Dole went to Washington a rock-hard Great Plains conservative but evolved into a pragmatic master of legislative compromise. He voted against Medicare as a young House member in the 1960s but worked with Democratic Sen. George McGovern a decade later to protect food stamps. He was a driving force behind the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which required businesses and institutions to be more accessible to the disabled.

After politics, his elder statesman persona and comedic sense made him a celebrity. He joined former President Bill Clinton in regular face-offs on “60 Minutes,” became a spokesman for Viagra and appeared with Britney Spears in a Pepsi ad.

TNR’s Eric Garcia exclaims that “Bob Dole’s Disability Rights Legacy Marked the End of a Bipartisan Era.”

In 1969, Bob Dole gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor on a topic about which he was intimately acquainted. From the moment he lost the use of his right arm and the feeling in his left, in Italy as a soldier in World War II, the challenges of a world not built for disabled people animated both Dole’s life and his political persona: Journalists familiarized readers with his trademarked strategies, from holding a pen in his right hand to keep his fingers from splaying, to wearing loafers since he couldn’t tie his shoes. More importantly, the impact of it on his life shaped his ideas and played a role in his own determinations about who he hired.

In that first address to the Senate, Dole told the story of a man who became a paraplegic and was referred to the state-federal vocational rehabilitation office, which enabled him to get a job as an insurance agent, have a new home, and adopt a child. “It takes place now because the Congress and the federal government initiated and guided a vital, vigorous program of vocational rehabilitation,” he said.

Dole’s praise of a federal government program was surprising given Dole’s role as a Republican “hatchet man.” At different points, Dole served as Republican National Committee Chairman under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976, Senate Majority Leader; and thrice as presidential candidate, his last foray coming in 1996 as the GOP standard-bearer who could not prevent Bill Clinton’s re-election.


Dole’s passing on Sunday has allowed Washington, D.C. to engage in one of its favorite activities—reminiscing on the days when bipartisanship reigned; the ADA looms large as a prime example. But it also forces a round of uncomfortable questions, regarding the way the Republican Party has strayed from Dole’s heyday, abandoning the positions on disability rights they once proudly defended.

“The history of the Republican writ large in the area of civil rights up until recently, there’s been a strong and sustained advocacy for civil rights,” said Tom Ridge, who was a Republican congressman at the time of the ADA’s passage and is now chairman of the National Organization on Disability. Ridge’s words about the decline of bipartisanship on disability aren’t empty “Party of Lincoln” platitudes; Dole voted for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act; he brokered a compromise that helped extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982 with future ADA collaborator Kennedy.

“Regrettably, there hasn’t been as strong a champion within the Republican Party since he left the Congress,” said Ridge.

That Dole lent his support to Trump toward the end isn’t much of a stain on his record. I’m not sure that it much mattered and, frankly, the man was in his late 90s. It was a hell of a life.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    That Dole lent his support to Trump toward the end isn’t much of a stain on his record.

    Here’s how I see it: Benito was the opposite of Dole’s approach to governance, beginning with the fact that Dole was interested in governance to begin with.

    Still, I can forgive anyone who supported El Cheeto in 2016. He was unknown as far as governing went (or could be perceived that way). Having seen him in action for four long years, there’s no excuse for continuing that support in 2020. That is unforgivable.

    It may no erase or outweigh all of Dole’s life, but it ended with massive stain that cannot be washed off.

  2. CSK says:

    Dole did say that Trump had lost the 2020 election, that there was no evidence of fraud, and that he himself was “Trumped out.”

  3. ptfe says:

    Dole was also a staunch Republican his whole life, including dismantling several major bipartisan bills from the ’60s that he originally supported as the party embraced the Southern Strategy. He was a major Nixonian, which says a lot about his judge of character and shows where his principles were rooted. And his ideals were ultimately the bedrock of the party he represented. He didn’t become the nominee in 1996 by being an outsider – he was firmly within the party camp, a product of The System, and the kind of guy the Republican establishment thought would appeal to those centrists who were disappointed with Bill Clinton, not the person who would rile up the base and get everyone excited to vote.

    I’d differ from Kathy, though, in thinking that his 2016 performance is any more of a stain on his record than his general lack of desired to move the Republicans socially. It was no surprise that a 90+ year old rich white man would support a 70 year old rich white man going up against the wife of the guy who crushed his presidential campaign two decades prior. He was “old and set” by then, to the extent that his LGBTQ views hadn’t moved (as far as I can tell) since his own presidential campaign. Trump was the Republican, and party was more important than any other factor in play at that point.

    Dole is going to get a lot of love from the mainstream press today because he was friends with several Dems and fought in WWII. But that spilled ink is basically going to read as Best of Bob Dole ca 2000, actively written to avoid considering how the same person actually affected the world in his time, or how he interacted with the world for his final 20 years. It’s GHW Bush all over again.

  4. Kathy says:


    Not 2016. 2020.

  5. ptfe says:

    @Kathy: Yeah, my point still stands: the things an old man does in his mid-90s are less a commentary on his life than the things he does when he’s at the height of his power, in this case in his 60s and 70s. And Dole…well, he failed that test and we’re going to whitewash it so it doesn’t look like the entire Republican Party (and back then it wasn’t just that party) was just the marriage of pro-white and religious organizations.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m always going to have a soft spot for any man who was injured in service to our country.

    That said, Bob Dole’s major positive contribution was the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet another Republican incapable of empathy for anyone but people like themselves. Dole was disabled so he cared about disabled people. Much like Dick Cheney suddenly deciding he supported gay marriage ten seconds after learning one of his daughters was a lesbian. And Lynne Cheney deciding that she, too, supported gay marriage once the polls showed she could support her sister at no political risk to herself.

    Republicans are very good at showing compassion for themselves. And only for themselves.

  7. ImProPer says:

    RIP Senator Dole, and peace to his family.
    America is a little poorer today, not because of his brilliant political philosophy, but his decency. God speed sir.

    “That Dole lent his support to Trump toward the end isn’t much of a stain on his record.”

    I agree. That a man in his 90s would endorse a manichean demagogue for high office, when it has become quite trendy, even in our universities, is not a smear on his record at all imo.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Looking around the media at the hagiography I find the framing entertaining. Bob Dole was a good guy, not because he was a loyal lifelong Republican who almost unfailingly supported Republican causes, but because he’d sometimes compromise with Dems. I don’t recall people making similar comments about John Lewis or George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey. They were good men because they were good Democrats. They did compromise, as all effective politicians must, but they weren’t eulogized, like Dole, and McCain, for compromise.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: What Michael said. Dole was part of the scene for decades, but I honestly can’t think of anything positive of significance he is responsible for, with the exception of the things that affected him personally. He was essentially a party apparatchik, no doubt a competent one, but he never led the party or the country to any meaningful improvement. James, you feel differently, so I would be curious what you have in mind.

  10. CSK says:

    Practically anyone looks good when compared to Trump and his crew of sycophants such as Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

    I’m deeply embarrassed that Trump was ever president, and that Greene and Boebert are in Congress.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have decided to watch Idiocracy today.

  11. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It’s no reflection on Dole – may his memory be a blessing for his family and friends – to wonder which Republicans who didn’t serve in WWII are going to get decent obituaries. Can’t be very many of them.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That said, Bob Dole’s major positive contribution was the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet another Republican incapable of empathy for anyone but people like themselves.

    The ADA is incredibly important though, so I might be willing to give him credit anyway. He could have just gone through life using wealth and power to give him access, but instead he wanted to make things better for others, including those worse off than himself.

    Also, he spoke in third person, and that was insane.

  13. HelloWorld! says:

    My partner was the chief-of-staff for a congressional Republican till 2016. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Bob Dole and he was a warm, nice guy. I’m an independent, but I remember him as a partisan hack when he was in the Senate. It wasn’t until after he left the senate that I began to like him as a person, but I’ve always respected his service. May he rest in peace, and his family be proud.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @ImProPer: That a man in his 90s would endorse a manichean demagogue for high office, when it has become quite trendy, even in our universities, is not a smear on his record at all imo.

    I don’t care what age a person is, if they are supporting fascists because it’s the cool thing to do, they are a pos. To my ears it sounds very 1930s Germany.

  15. ImProPer says:


    I definitely hear you, and also have nothing but contempt for tfg. Fortunately imo, he doesn’t have the discipline, nor attention span of a Hitler or El duce, nor a particular fetish for any significant group of people, other than himself, and the occasional attractive young female. I personally don’t see the “Fascist” angle, but in our complex society, as big of a threat they pose, there are other boogie men to fear, of which he is one

  16. senyordave says:

    @ImProPer: That a man in his 90s would endorse a manichean demagogue for high office, when it has become quite trendy, even in our universities, is not a smear on his record at all imo.
    The only excuse would be if Dole was suffering from some type of dementia. Trump is dangerous and anyone can see it.