Senate leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole dies aged 98

5 December 2021, 20:04

Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole
Obit Bob Dole. Picture: PA

Mr Dole announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

The long-time Kansas senator and Republican nominee for US president Bob Dole has died aged 98.

His wife, Elizabeth Dole, posted the announcement on Twitter on Sunday

Mr Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become Senate leader, announced in February 2021 that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Mr Dole became one of the most influential legislators and party leaders in the Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a caustic wit, which he often turned on himself but did not hesitate to turn on others too.

He shaped tax policy, foreign policy, farm and nutrition programmes and rights for the disabled, enshrining protections against discrimination in employment, education and public services in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Today’s accessible government offices and national parks, pavement ramps and the sign-language interpreters at official local events are just some of the more visible hallmarks of his legacy and that of the fellow politicians he rounded up for that sweeping civil rights legislation 30 years ago.

Mr Dole devoted his later years to the cause of wounded veterans, their fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery and remembrance of the fading generation of Second World War veterans.

Thousands of old soldiers massed on the National Mall in 2004 for what Mr Dole, speaking at the dedication of the Second World War Memorial there, called “our final reunion”. He had been a driving force in its creation.

“Our ranks have dwindled,” he said then. “Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades.”

Long gone from Kansas, Mr Dole made his life in the capital, at the centre of power and then in its shadow upon his retirement, living at the Watergate complex.

Bob Dole
Bob Dole tried to become president three times (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

When he left politics and joined a law firm staffed by prominent Democrats, he joked that he brought his dog to work so he would have another Republican to talk to.

He tried to become president three times. The last was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination only to see president Bill Clinton re-elected.

He sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 and was the 1976 GOP vice presidential candidate on the losing ticket with president Gerald Ford.

Throughout his political career, he carried the legacy of war. Charging a German position in northern Italy in 1945, Mr Dole was hit by a shell fragment that crushed two vertebrae and paralysed his arms and legs. The young army platoon leader spent three years recovering in a hospital and never regained the use of his right hand.

To avoid embarrassing those trying to shake his right hand, Mr Dole always clutched a pen in it and reached out with his left.

Mr Dole could be merciless with his rivals, whether Democrat or Republican. When George HW Bush defeated him in the 1988 New Hampshire Republican primary, Mr Dole snapped: “Stop lying about my record.”

If that pales next to the scorching insults in today’s political arena, it was shocking at the time.

Bob Dole surrounded by military veterans during a Bush/Cheney 2004 National Veterans Leadership Team rally in 2004
Bob Dole surrounded by military veterans during a Bush/Cheney 2004 National Veterans Leadership Team rally in 2004 (Chris O’Meara/AP)

But when Mr Bush died in December 2018, old rivalries were forgotten as Mr Dole appeared before Mr Bush’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda. As an aide lifted him from his wheelchair, an ailing Mr Dole slowly steadied himself and saluted his one-time nemesis with his left hand, his chin quivering.

For all of his bare-knuckle ways, he was a deep believer in the Senate as an institution and commanded respect and even affection from many Democrats.

Just days after Mr Dole announced his cancer diagnosis, President Joe Biden visited him at his home to wish him well. The White House said the two were close friends from their days in the Senate.

Mr Dole won a seat in Congress in 1960, representing a western Kansas House district. He moved up to the Senate eight years later when Republican incumbent Frank Carlson retired.

There, he antagonised his Senate colleagues with fiercely partisan and sarcastic rhetoric, delivered at the behest of president Richard Nixon.

The Kansan was rewarded for his loyalty with the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee in 1971, before Nixon’s presidency collapsed in the Watergate scandal.

Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth in 1996
Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth in 1996 (Scott Troyanos/AP)

He served as a committee chairman, majority leader and minority leader in the Senate during the 1980s and 1990s. Altogether, he was the Republicans’ leader in the Senate for nearly 11-and-a-half years, a record until Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell broke it in 2018.

It was during this period that he earned a reputation as a shrewd, pragmatic legislator, tireless in fashioning compromises.

Mr Dole became Senate leader in 1985 and served as either majority or minority leader, depending on which party was in charge, until he resigned in 1996 to devote himself to pursuit of the presidency.

That campaign, Mr Dole’s last, was fraught with problems from the start. He ran out of money in the spring, and Democratic ads painted the GOP candidate and the party’s divisive House speaker, Newt Gingrich, with the same brush: as Republicans out to eliminate Medicare. Mr Clinton won by a large margin.

He also faced questions about his age because he was running for president at age 73 — well before Mr Biden was elected weeks before turning 78 in 2020.

Relegated to private life, Mr Dole became an elder statesman who helped Mr Clinton get a chemical-weapons treaty passed. He also tended his wife’s political ambitions. Ms Dole ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, then served a term as senator from North Carolina.

But he continued to comment on issues and endorse political candidates.

In 2016, Mr Dole initially backed former Florida governor Jeb Bush for the GOP presidential nomination. He later warmed to Donald Trump and eventually endorsed him.

Bob Dole
Bob Dole was born in 1923 in a western Kansas farming and oil community (Ron Edmonds/AP)

But six weeks after the 2020 election, with Mr Trump still refusing to concede and promoting unfounded claims of voter fraud, Mr Dole told The Kansas City Star, “the election is over”.

He said: “It’s a pretty bitter pill for Trump, but it’s a fact he lost.”

In September 2017, Congress voted to award Mr Dole its highest expression of appreciation for distinguished contributions to the nation, a Congressional Gold Medal. This came a decade after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Congress honoured Mr Dole again in 2019 by promoting him from army captain to colonel, in recognition of the military service that earned him two Purple Hearts.

Robert Joseph Dole was born July 22 1923, in Russell, a western Kansas farming and oil community. He was the eldest of four children. His father ran a cream and egg business and managed a grain elevator, and his mother sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners to help support the family during the Depression. Mr Dole attended the University of Kansas for two years before enlisting in the army in 1943.

Mr Dole met Phyllis Holden, a therapist at a military hospital, as he was recovering from his war wounds in 1948. They were married and had a daughter, Robin. The couple divorced in 1972.

Mr Dole met his second wife, Elizabeth, while she was working for the Nixon White House. She also served on the Federal Trade Commission and as transportation secretary and labour secretary while Mr Dole was in the Senate. They married in 1975.

By Press Association

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