Robert Joseph Dole (born July 22, 1923) is an American lawyer and politician who served as a U.S. Senator from Kansas from 1969 until 1996, serving as the Senate Majority Leader from 1985 until 1996. As he was the Republican nominee for President of the United States in 1996 and the nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1976, Dole is the first person to be nominated for both positions in an election but never won any of them. Prior to becoming a senator, Dole served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961 until 1969.
Dole was born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, the son of Bina M. (née Talbott; 1904–1983) and Doran Ray Dole (1901–1975). Dole's father, who had moved the family to Russell shortly before Robert was born, earned money by running a small creamery. One of Dole's father's customers was the father of future Senator Arlen Specter. During the Great Depression, which severely impacted Kansas and its residents, the Dole family moved to the basement of their home and eventually rented out the upper floors to raise money. As a boy, Dole worked as a soda jerk in the local drug store.
Dole graduated from Russell High School in the spring of 1941 and enrolled at the University of Kansas the following fall. Dole had been a star high school athlete in Russell, and Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen traveled to Russell to recruit him to play for the Jayhawks basketball team. While at KU, Dole played for the basketball team, the track team, and the football team. In football, Dole played at the end position, earning varsity letters in 1942 and 1944. While in college, Dole joined the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, and in 1970 was bestowed with the Fraternity's "Man of the Year" honor. Dole's pre-med studies at KU were interrupted by World War II. After the war, Dole returned to become a law student. Dole attended the University of Arizona from 1948 to 1951 and earned both his law degree and BA degrees from Washburn University in 1952. Dole was initiated as a Freemason of Russell Lodge No. 177, Russell, Kansas on April 19, 1955.
Dole grew up in a house at 1035 North Maple in Russell and it remained his official residence throughout his political career.
In 1942, Dole joined the United States Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps to fight in World War II, becoming a second lieutenant in the Army's 10th Mountain Division. In April 1945, while engaged in combat near Castel d'Aiano in the Apennine mountains southwest of Bologna, Italy, Dole was badly wounded by German machine gun fire, being hit in his upper back and right arm. As Lee Sandlin describes, when fellow soldiers saw the extent of his injuries, all they thought they could do was to "give him the largest dose of morphine they dared and write an 'M' for 'morphine' on his forehead in his own blood, so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose." Dole was transported to the United States, where his recovery was slow, interrupted by blood clots and a life-threatening infection. After large doses of penicillin had not succeeded, Dole overcame the infection with the administration of streptomycin, which at the time was still an experimental drug. He nevertheless remained despondent, "not ready to accept the fact that my life would be changed forever." He was encouraged to see Hampar Kelikian, an orthopedist in Chicago who had been working with veterans returning from war. Although during their first meeting Kelikian told Dole that he would never be able to recover fully, the encounter changed Dole's outlook on life, who years later wrote that Kelikian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, "Kelikian inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it, rather than complaining what had been lost." Dr. K, as Dole later came to affectionately call him, operated on him seven times, free of charge, and had, in Dole's words, "an impact on my life second only to my family."
Dole recovered from his wounds at the Percy Jones Army Hospital. This complex of federal buildings, no longer a hospital, is now named Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in honor of three patients who became United States Senators: Dole, Philip Hart and Daniel Inouye. Dole was decorated three times, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star with combat "V" for valor for his attempt to assist a downed radioman.
Dole ran for office for the first time in 1950 and was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, serving a two-year term. After graduating from law school at Washburn University in Topeka, Dole was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in his hometown of Russell in 1952.
Also in 1952, Dole became the County Attorney of Russell County, serving in that position for eight years. In 1960, Dole was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Kansas' 6th Congressional District, located in central Kansas. In 1962, his district was merged with the 3rd District in western Kansas to form the 1st Congressional District, a huge 60-county district that soon became known as the "Big First." Dole was re-elected that year and twice thereafter without serious difficulty.
In 1968, Dole defeated Kansas Governor William H. Avery for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate to succeed retiring Senator Frank Carlson, subsequently being elected. Dole was re-elected in 1974, 1980, 1986, and 1992, before resigning on June 12, 1996, to focus on his Presidential campaign. Dole faced only one truly enthusiastic and well-financed challenger, Congressman Bill Roy in 1974. Much of Roy's popularity was in response to the fallout from Watergate. Dole would win re-election in 1974 by only a few thousand votes, having in the end graphically painted Roy as pro-abortion. While in the Senate, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 until 1973, the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee from 1975 to 1978, and the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee from 1979 to 1980.
When the Republicans took control of the Senate after the 1980 elections, Dole became chairman of the Finance Committee in 1981, serving until 1985. From 1985, when Howard Baker of Tennessee retired, until his resignation from the Senate, Dole was the leader of the Senate Republicans. He served as Majority Leader from 1985 until 1987, as Minority Leader from 1987 to 1995, and again as Majority Leader from 1995 to 1996. Following the advice of conservative William Kristol, Dole flatly rejected the health care plan of Bill Clinton, remarking, "There is no crisis in health care."
Dole had a moderate voting record and was widely considered to be one of the few Kansas Republicans who could bridge the gap between the moderate and conservative wings of the Kansas Republican Party. As a Congressman in the early 1960s, Dole supported the major civil rights bills, which appealed to moderates. When Johnson proposed the Great Society in 1964–65, Dole voted against some War on Poverty measures like public-housing subsidies and Medicare, thus appealing to conservatives. Dole's first speech in the Senate in 1969 was a plea for federal aid for the handicapped. Later, as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, Dole joined liberal Senator George McGovern to lower eligibility requirements for federal food stamps, a liberal goal that was supported by Kansas farmers.
Dole's hawkishness on the Vietnam War and on crime issues kept him in good standing with the right wing. When they heard Nixon might make Dole chairman of the Republican National Committee, half the Republican Senators protested, especially moderates who feared Dole would direct party assets to conservatives.
In 1976, Dole ran unsuccessfully for Vice President on a ticket headed by President Gerald Ford. Incumbent Vice President Nelson Rockefeller had withdrawn from consideration the previous November, and Dole was chosen. Dole stated during the Vice Presidential debate with Walter Mondale, "I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit". The remark backfired.
Dole ran for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, eventually won by Ronald Reagan. Despite Dole's fame from the '76 campaign, Dole was viewed as a lower-tier candidate, trailing not only Reagan but George Bush, Howard Baker, John Connally, and John Anderson. Dole received only 597 votes (less than 1%) in the New Hampshire primary and immediately withdrew. In March 1980, Dole urged former President Ford to jump into the race as a stop-Reagan candidate.
Dole made a more serious bid in 1988, formally announcing his candidacy in Russell, Kansas, on November 9, 1987. At the ceremony, Dole was presented with the cigar box that had been used to collect donations for his war-related medical expenses. The box contained $100,000 in campaign donations. Dole started out strongly by solidly defeating then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucus—Bush finished third, behind television evangelist Pat Robertson. Bush, however, recovered in time to defeat Dole in the New Hampshire primary a week later. The New Hampshire contest between the two was particularly bitter, although they differed little on the issues. After the returns had come in on the night of that primary, Dole appeared to lose his temper in a television interview. Dole was interviewed live in New Hampshire on NBC by Tom Brokaw, who was in the NBC studio in New York. It happened that Bush was right next to Brokaw in the studio. Brokaw asked Bush if he had anything to say to Dole. Bush responded, "No, just wish him well and meet again in the south." Dole, apparently not expecting to see Bush, when asked the same question about the Vice President said, "Yeah, stop lying about my record", largely in response to a very tough New Hampshire Bush commercial which accused Dole of "straddling" on taxes. This remark prompted some members of the media to perceive him as angry about the loss, contributing to Dole's "hatchet man" image earned during his tenure as RNC chairman and the '76 campaign.
Despite two big wins in South Dakota and Minnesota a week after New Hampshire, Dole was not able to recover. Viewed by many as a micromanager who could not effectively oversee a presidential campaign while serving as a senator, Dole did not hire a full-time campaign manager, former Tennessee Senator Bill Brock, until late 1987, well after Bush's team had been in place. Despite raising almost as much money as the Bush campaign, the Dole campaign spent its money faster and was vastly outspent in the contests held after Iowa, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Despite a key endorsement by Senator Strom Thurmond, one of many Republican senators who supported their leader, Dole was defeated by Bush again in South Carolina in early March. Several days later, every southern state voted for Bush in a "Super Tuesday" sweep. Another big loss in Illinois persuaded Dole to withdraw from the race.
The Republicans took control of both the Senate and House of Representatives in the 1994 mid-term elections, due to the fallout from President Bill Clinton's policies including his health care plan, and Dole became Senate Majority Leader for the second time. In October 1995, a year before the presidential election, Dole and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich led the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a spending bill that President Clinton vetoed, leading to the federal government shutdown from 1995–96. On November 13, Republican and Democratic leaders, including Vice President Al Gore, Dick Armey, and Dole, met to try to resolve the budget and were unable to reach an agreement. Due to Dole's need to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he wanted to solve the budget crisis in January 1996 despite the willingness of other Republicans to continue the shutdown unless their demands were met. In particular, as Gingrich and Dole had been seen as potential rivals for the 1996 Presidential nomination, they had a tense working relationship. The shutdown was cited as having a role in Clinton's successful 1996 re-election by Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos.
The popularity of the incumbent president, Bill Clinton, had improved greatly from 1994 to 1996 thanks to a booming economy as well as winning public opinion in the 1995 budget shutdown, so Clinton and vice president Al Gore faced no serious opposition in the Democratic primaries. A few months before his passing in April 1994, Richard Nixon warned Dole “If the economy’s good, you’re not going to beat Clinton.” Dole was the early front runner for the GOP nomination in the 1996 presidential race. At least eight candidates ran for the nomination. Dole was expected to win the nomination against underdog candidates such as the more conservative Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and more moderate Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Pat Buchanan upset Dole in the early New Hampshire primary, however, with Dole finishing second and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander finishing third. Speechwriter Kerry Tymchuk remarked "Dole was on the ropes because he wasn't conservative enough". Publisher Steve Forbes also ran and broadcast a stream of negative ads. Dole ended up being forced to spend more on the primary than he had planned, and until the convention in San Diego faced federal limits on campaign spending.
Dole eventually won the nomination, becoming the oldest first-time presidential nominee at the age of 73 years, 1 month (Ronald Reagan was 73 years, 6 months in 1984, for his second presidential nomination). Dole found the initial draft of the acceptance speech written by Mark Helprin as too hardline, so Kerry Tymchuk who was part of the "'Let Dole be Dole' crowd" revised the speech to cover the 'themes of honor, decency and straight talk. It included the following line, a swat at the all-or-nothing rookie Republicans who had been swept into Congress in the 1994 midterm GOP wave: "In politics honorable compromise is no sin. It is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance"'. In his acceptance speech, Dole stated, "Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquillity, faith, and confidence in action," to which incumbent president Bill Clinton responded, "We do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future."
Dole was the first sitting Senate Party Leader to receive his party's nomination for president. He hoped to use his long experience in Senate procedures to maximize publicity from his rare positioning as Senate Majority Leader against an incumbent President but was stymied by Senate Democrats. On June 11, 1996, Dole resigned his seat to focus on the campaign, saying he was either heading for "The White House or home". As told in the Doles' joint biography "Unlimited Partners", speechwriter and biographer Kerry Tymchuk wrote "that he was going to make a statement. He was going to risk it all for the White House. He knew his time as leader was over. It would have been tough to come back [to the Senate as leader] if he lost in November. He knew it was time to move up or move out."
Dole promised a 15% across-the-board reduction in income tax rates and made former Congressman and supply side advocate Jack Kemp his running mate for vice president. Dole found himself criticized from both the left and the right within the Republican Party over the convention platform, one of the major issues being the inclusion of the Human Life Amendment. Clinton framed the narrative against Dole early, painting him as a mere clone of unpopular then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, warning America that Dole would work in concert with the Republican Congress to slash popular social programs, like Medicare and Social Security, dubbed by Clinton as "Dole-Gingrich". Dole's tax-cut plan found itself under attack from the White House, who said it would "blow a hole in the deficit".
With the infancy of the Internet, Dole-Kemp was the first presidential campaign to set up a website, edging out Clinton-Gore, which was set up by Arizona State college students Rob Kubasko and Vince Salvato.
The concerns over Dole's age and lagging campaign were exemplified by a memorable incident on September 18, 1996. At a rally in Chico, California, Dole was reaching down to shake the hand of a supporter, when the railing on the stage gave way and he tumbled four feet. While Dole suffered only minor injuries in the fall, "the televised image of his painful grimace underscored the age difference between him and Clinton" and proved an ominous sign for Republican hopes of retaking the White House.
During the latter half of October 1996, Dole made a campaign appearance with Heather Whitestone, the first deaf Miss America, where both of them signed "I love you" to the crowd. Around that time, Dole and his advisers knew that they would lose the election, but in the last four days of the campaign they went on the "96-hour victory tour" to help Republican Congressional candidates.
Dole lost, as pundits had long expected, to incumbent President Bill Clinton in the 1996 election. Clinton won in a 379–159 Electoral College landslide, capturing 49.2% of the vote against Dole's 40.7% and Ross Perot's 8.4%. As Richard Nixon had predicted to Dole a few months before his passing in April 1994, Clinton was able to ride a booming economy to a second term in the White House.
Dole is the only person in the history of the two major U.S. political parties to have been a party's nominee for both President and Vice President, but who was never elected to either office. It is a virtual reversal to the situation of his former running mate Gerald R. Ford who had served both as Vice President and as President without being elected to either office.
The span of 20 years between his participation in the 1976 vice-presidential debate and the 1996 presidential debates is the longest for any candidate since televised debates in presidential election years were instituted in 1960.
Dole is the last World War II veteran to have been the presidential nominee of a major party. During the campaign, Dole's advanced age was brought up with critics stating that he was too old to be President. However, Dole has lived past January 20, 2005, the date he would have completed two terms as President had he won in 1996 and been reelected in 2000.
In his election night concession speech, Dole remarked "I was thinking on the way down in the elevator -- tomorrow will be the first time in my life I don't have anything to do." Dole later wrote "I was wrong. Seventy-two hours after conceding the election, I was swapping wisecracks with David Letterman on his late-night show". During the immediate aftermath of his 1996 loss to Clinton, Dole recalled that his critics thought that "I didn't loosen up enough, I didn't show enough leg. They said I was too serious . . . It takes several months to stop fretting about it and move on. But I did." Dole remarked that his decisive defeat to Clinton made it easier for him to be "magnanimous". On his decision to leave politics for good after the 1996 presidential election campaign, despite his guaranteed stature as a former Senate leader, Dole stated "People were urging [me] to be a hatchet man against Clinton for the next four years. I couldn't see the point. Maybe after all those partisan fights, you look for more friendships. One of the nice things I've discovered is that when you're out of politics, you have more credibility with the other side . . . And you're out among all kinds of people, and that just doesn't happen often for an ex-president; he doesn't have the same freedom. So it hasn't been all bad."
The 1996 presidential election, despite ending in a loss, opened up numerous opportunities for Dole owing in part to his sense of humor. He has engaged in a career of writing, consulting, public speaking, and television appearances. Dole was the first defeated presidential nominee to become a political celebrity.
He became a television commercial spokesman for such products as Viagra, Visa, Dunkin' Donuts and Pepsi-Cola (with Britney Spears), and as an occasional political commentator on the interview program Larry King Live, and has been a guest a number of times on Comedy Central's satirical news program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Dole was, for a short time, a commentator opposite Bill Clinton on CBS's 60 Minutes. Dole guest-starred as himself on NBC's Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan in January 1997 (shortly after losing the presidential election). He also made a cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live, parodying himself in November 1996.
From 1998 to 2002, Dole was head of the Federal City Council, a group of business, civic, education, and other leaders interested in economic development in Washington, D.C.
After leaving office, Dole joined the Washington, D.C. firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, where he was a registered lobbyist on behalf of foreign governments (including Kosovo, Taiwan, and Slovenia); the American Society of Anesthesiologists; Tyco; and the Chocolate Industry Coalition. In 2003, after Verner, Liipfert was acquired by Piper Rudnick, Dole joined the Washington, D.C. law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird LLP, where he continued his lobbying career. While working for Alston & Bird, Dole has been registered as a foreign agent in order to represent the government of Taiwan in Washington.
Dole served as national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign, which raised funds for the building of the National World War II Memorial.
Dole has written several books, including one on jokes told by the Presidents of the United States, in which he ranks the presidents according to their level of humor.
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, housed on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, was established to bring bipartisanship back to politics. The Institute, which opened in July 2003 to coincide with Dole's 80th birthday, has featured such notable speakers as former President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Dole's legacy also includes a commitment to combating hunger both in the United States and around the globe. In addition to numerous domestic programs, and along with former Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota), Dole created an international school lunch program through the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which, funded largely through the Congress, helps fight child hunger and poverty by providing nutritious meals to children in schools in developing countries. This internationally popular program would go on to provide more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries in its first eight years. It has since led to greatly increased global interest in and support for school-feeding programs — which benefit girls and young women, in particular — and won McGovern and Dole the 2008 World Food Prize.
In 2004, on the Larry King show, Dole had a heated exchange with Democratic presidential primary candidate Wesley Clark in which Dole correctly predicted that Clark would lose the New Hampshire primary and other primaries.
On September 18, 2004, Dole offered the inaugural lecture to dedicate the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, during which he chronicled his life as a public servant and also discussed the importance of public service in terms of defense, civil rights, the economy, and in daily life. Dole also gave the 2008 Vance Distinguished Lecture at Central Connecticut State University.
On April 12, 2005, Dole released his autobiography One Soldier's Story: A Memoir (ISBN 0-06-076341-8), which talks of his World War II experiences and his battle to survive his war injuries.
In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Dole and Donna Shalala, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, as co-chairs of the commission to investigate problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. That same year, Dole joined fellow former Senate majority leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell to found the Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit think-tank that works to develop policies suitable for bipartisan support.
Dole appears in the 2008 documentary on Lee Atwater, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. In the film, Dole says, "I don't comment on Atwater." Additionally, "This isn't politics, this is garbage."
On January 26, 2012, Dole issued a letter critical of Newt Gingrich, focusing on Dole and Gingrich's time working together on Capitol Hill. The letter was issued immediately before the Florida primary. Dole endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.
On December 4, 2012, Dole made an appearance on the Senate floor to advocate ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Democratic Senator John Kerry explained: "Bob Dole is here because he wants to know that other countries will come to treat the disabled as we do." The Senate rejected the treaty by a vote of 61-38, less than the 66 required for ratification. Many Republican senators voted against the bill, fearing it would interfere with American sovereignty.
In early 2014 Dole began a reunion tour of his home state of Kansas, in which he sought to visit each of the state's 105 counties. At each stop he spent approximately an hour speaking with old friends and well-wishers.
Dole endorsed and campaigned for Senator Pat Roberts during the latter's 2014 re-election bid.
In 2015, Dole endorsed former Florida governor Jeb Bush in his presidential campaign. After Bush ended his campaign following the South Carolina primary, Dole endorsed Florida senator Marco Rubio's campaign. During the campaign, Dole criticized Texas senator Ted Cruz, stating that he "question[ed] his allegiance to the party" and that there would be "wholesale losses" if he were to win the Republican nomination. Dole endorsed Donald Trump after the latter clinched the Republican nomination, and Dole was the lone former Republican presidential nominee to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention. Dole had attended every GOP convention since 1964, and did not consider skipping the 2016 edition even though Trump's politics were closer to that of Dole's 1996 primary rival Pat Buchanan. Former Dole advisers, including Paul Manafort, played a major role in Trump's presidential campaign.
In February 2016 Dole donated $20,000 to help pay for a camp for children with cancer in central Kansas.
On January 17, 1997, Senator Dole was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton for his service in the military and his political career. In his acceptance remarks in the East Room of the White House, Dole remarked “I had a dream that I would be here this historic week receiving something from the president — but I thought it would be the front-door key”.
In 1997, Dole received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
In October 2001, Dole received the Gold Good Citizenship award from the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Dole received the American Patriot Award in 2004 for his lifelong dedication to America and his service in World War II.
On September 30, 2015, the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC) honored former Senator Bob Dole with the organization's Survivor's Gratitude Award in the category of "Hero of Responsibility and Principle" for his tireless efforts in raising attention to the Armenian Genocide and its victims.
Dole married Phyllis Holden, an occupational therapist at a veterans hospital, in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1948, three months after they met. Their daughter, Robin, was born in 1954. Dole and Holden divorced January 11, 1972. Holden died on April 22, 2008.
Dole met his second wife Elizabeth, 13 years younger, in 1972. The couple were married on December 6, 1975. They have no children.
Dole often refers to himself in the third person in conversation.
In recent years, Dole has struggled with health problems. In December 2004, he had a hip-replacement operation that required him to receive blood thinners. One month after the surgery, it was determined that Dole was bleeding inside his head. Dole spent 40 days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and upon release, his "good" arm, the left, was of limited use. Dole told a reporter that he needed help to handle the simplest of tasks, since both of his arms are injured. He undergoes physical therapy for his left shoulder once a week, but doctors have told him that he might not regain total use of his left arm.
In 2009, Dole was hospitalized for an elevated heart rate and sore legs for which he underwent a successful skin-graft procedure. In February 2010, Dole was hospitalized for pneumonia after undergoing knee surgery. He spent 10 months at Walter Reed, recovering from the surgery, and experienced three bouts with pneumonia. He was released from the hospital in November 2010. In January 2011, however, Dole was readmitted to Walter Reed and spent about six days there, being treated for a fever as well as a minor infection.
Dole was hospitalized in the latter part of November 2012 at Walter Reed, according to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
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