Bob Dole

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Bob Dole
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U.S. Politics
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Bob Dole is not the most exciting, charismatic personality around. He recently willed his body to science, and they contested that will."
—Johnny Carson[1]:115

Robert Joseph Dole (1923–2021) was a Kansas Republican Congressman, three-time Presidential candidate, one-time Vice Presidential Candidate, and twice Senate Majority Leader. He is famous for being among the final generation of Republicans who weren't total wingnuts, despite being the only living former nominee for the party's presidential ticket to endorse Donald Trump, the biggest wingnut presidential candidate as of 2016, and Dole spoke at the convention.[2] Dole died of lung cancer on December 5, 2021.[3]

The good[edit]

  • He was a firm fighter for the rights of the disabled.[4] Dole himself was permanently disabled, his right arm had limited mobility, from near-fatal injuries that he received in combat during World War II.
  • Early in his career, he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[5] the Voting Rights Act of 1965,[6] and the Twenty Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.[7]
  • He helped make food stamps more accessible for millions of Americans.[8]
  • Supported a universal daycare proposal in 1971. Nixon, of course, vetoed it.[9]
  • Was supportive of a bipartisan health care plan in 1973.[10]

Bob and Jerry[edit]

1976 Presidential Election Results[11]

One of Dole's first experiences on the national stage occurred in 1976, when Gerald Ford chose Dole to be his running mate. According to Hilton, "Ford was impressed that Dole was a more aggressive, slashing campaigner than the other contenders . . . The colorless Ford wanted to spend much of the fall in the White House Rose Garden looking presidential, while his running mate vigorously stumped the nation, launching missiles at Carter and Mondale."[1]:103 However, this aggression ended up being what sunk Dole's campaign, and Ford's with it. Hilton specifically recalls an incident during the Vice Presidential Debate where Dole said that "If we added up all the killed and wounded to Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit" as the moment where the Ford campaign became doomed to fail, given how offensive that comment was to millions of veterans and those who had veterans in their family.[1]:106

After he lost, he was asked if he planned to run for nation office again. His reply was "Not for four years."[12]:21

Dole's Presidential desires[edit]

From the start of his time in public life, it became rather obvious to anybody paying attention that Dole wanted to be President of the United States. Dole first ran for President in 1980,[13] with the most memorable thing about it being him calling George H.W. Bush a "fucking Nazi."[14] Dole got a grand total of 7,204 votes, 0.06% of the overall total in the primary,[15] and endorsed Ronald Reagan upon dropping out.[16] (The run was so forgettable that Dole would begin many of his speeches in 1988 by going "You may not know this, but I ran for President."[12]:14)

Stanley G. Hilton, who worked for Dole at the time, noted that he "failed to exploit opportunities, held back his forces, failed to organize any coherent campaign theme, hired Senate aides who supported other Republican candidates, and failed to delegate responsibilities properly."[1]:109Hilton also notes that "Dole often seemed unable to hold a position in response to conflicts between Elizabeth's [his wife] position and that of his staff,"[1]:110 which occasionally led him unable to be open about his opinions on anything, especially when he knew siding with his wife would upset the conservative base.

Dole also suffered greatly from simply never actually campaigning against those who he was running against. Hilton notes that "Dole believed that Ted Kennedy would run for president against Carter, and would win the Democratic nomination. If he could 'beat Kennedy' as he liked to say, he would accomplish a lifelong dream by out-Nixoning Nixon. This decision to target Kennedy was a strategic mistake, because his real rival was Reagan, not 'Chappaquiddick Ted.'"[1]:112 Of course, given Carter won the 1980 nomination and not Kennedy,[17] this would have failed to help Dole even if he had won the nomination. His last minute attempt at negativity, made up of going hard on Bush in New Hampshire for his connections with a David Rockefeller founded group called the Trilateral Commission, only ended up helping Reagan who "declined to savage Bush personally and let Dole do his dirty work."[1]:116

Dole gave it another go in 1988,[18] and this time managed to win slightly less then twenty percent of the vote[19] but was primarily defeated due to Bush painting him as somebody who was a straddler on taxes, an idea to which Dole angerly responded to with the line stop lying about my record, which also made him look mean.[20] Dole did manage to win the endorsement of Strom Thurmond, for whatever that's worth.[19]

What's especially notable about this campaign, however, is it showed just how incompetent Dole could be. Going back to Hilton, he specifically makes note of how Dole was given a golden opportunity to attack Bush in the form of the Iran-Contra scandal the Reagan Administration was dealing with from 1986 onwards. However, Dole defended his fellow Republicans on this account, even going so far as to oppose a special prosecutor for the scandal,[1]:31 and instead spent his campaign pushing rumors that Bush was having an affair of some kind.[1]:143-145 Even when his other longshot candidates offered to form an alliance to attack Bush over Iran-Contra, Dole refused because of his loyalty to President Reagan.[1]:146 Dole's constant talk about he was the true successor to Reagan led Bush to quip "Bob says when Ronald Reagan wants something important he calls Bob Dole. That's funny, when he wanted somebody to be Vice President of the United States he called me."[21]:230

1996 Electoral Map[22]

However, Dole's most successful campaign was his attempt at the presidency in 1996, the only time he actually won the nomination. Although many of the hardcore Republicans felt "he wasn't conservative enough," in the words of one of his speechwriters,[23] many who weren't in that small base felt that he was, to be blunt, too old and stuffy, especially compared to the young and cool Bill Clinton, and his elderly status in both age (if elected, Dole would have been the oldest President in American history) and ideas was something Dole constantly played into. Dole famously said he wanted to "be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action" which Clinton responded to by declaring "we do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future."[24]

At the end of the day, Clinton was just too popular and Republican policies were too unpopular at the time for Dole to really have a chance. Richard Nixon famously warned Dole that "If the economy's good, you're not going to beat Clinton,"[25] and the economy had very much grown during Clinton's first term[26] (which was especially bad luck for Dole given the last Republican President, George H. W. Bush, ended his administration on a recession[27]). Meanwhile, Clinton was able to paint Dole as little more then a clone of the highly unpopular House Speaker Newt Gingrich,[28] further making Dole look worse in the eyes of the public.

Dole's 1996 campaign saw the first use of a website to promote a Presidential campaign,[29] which can still be viewed to this day.[30]

Senator flip-flop[edit]

He began his political career as a congressman "to the right of Genghis Khan," in the 1960s. Then he became "Nixon's Doberman pincher" in the Senate in the early 1970s, only to eventually ally himself with George McGovern, with whom he forged an alliance to liberalize food stamp eligibility in the late 1970s. After 1985, he urged stringent cutbacks in the food stamp program and went farther to the right than Senator Jesse Helms.[1]:29

Throughout his time in the Senate, Dole was infamous for never being able to keep a straight position on anything. He would claim he was against raising taxes, only to constantly vote in favor of raising taxes throughout his political career.[1]:29 He claimed to be against increasing the deficit, even calling it "public enemy number one," and yet "it is Dole himself who has been a major architect of the deficit."[1]:30

Dole "urged drastic slashing of federal aid" to groups which helped the handicapped and disabled, despite claiming to be an advocate for this group of people.[1]:30 Dole "championed the cause of the tobacco lobby in Congress" despite claiming he is against smoking.[1]:30

Dole "led a vicious filibuster that killed the 1990 Civil Rights Act" in spite of the fact that he not only had claimed to be in favor of Civil Rights, but had actually helped "to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1982 (against the wishes of President Reagan)."[1]:30 He had also "led filibusters against any form of campaign finance reform" despite "condemning PACs as corrupt in 1982."[1]:29-30

Even some of the most famous Republican accomplishments of the era, which Dole helped out with, were things he previously went against. In early 1981, he, like all Republicans, became a huge supporter of Reagan's supply-side economics, even helping make them into law through his connections in the Senate. However, he had spent the entirety of the 1980 Presidential Campaign mocking Reagan's ideas.[1]:121 Still, he would go back to criticizing it the second the popular opinion turned, with him giving "speeches with a populist gusto that struck many observers as 'radical' and 'liberal'" come 1982.[1]:124


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 Senator for Sale by Stanley G. Hilton
  2. Trump’s campaign is a resurrection — and second chance — for Dole alumni
  3. Bob Dole, Old Soldier and Stalwart of the Senate, Dies at 98
  4. Bob Dole’s Disability Rights Legacy Marked the End of a Bipartisan Era
  8. There Was a Time When Ending Hunger Was a National Goal for Republicans and Democrats
  11. 1976 Presidential Election
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Quotable Bob Dole: Witty, Wise, and Otherwise by Jon Margolis
  13. On This Day In 1979: Bob Dole Declares For President (1st Of 3)
  14. The Time Bob Dole Called George Bush a ‘F------ Nazi’
  15. US President - R Primaries
  16. KS US President - R Primary
  17. Carter accepts Democratic nomination for a second term: Aug. 14, 1980
  18. Dole Makes His Presidential Bid Official
  19. 19.0 19.1 US President - R Primaries
  20. Bush vs. Dole: Behind the Turnaround
  21. The Clothes Have No Emperor: A Chronicle of the American 80s by Paul Slansky
  22. 1996 Presidential Election
  23. Bob Dole backs Donald Trump, but 20 years ago his campaign rejected embryonic Trumpism
  25. Bob Dole on life after losing the 1996 presidential election
  26. LAO Analysis of the 1997-98 Budget Bill Perspectives and Issues Part II, Perspectives on the Economy and Demographics
  27. ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ and the bad luck of George H.W. Bush
  29. The First Campaign Websites