Bob Dole, a Republican Party stalwart and presidential hopeful who espoused a brand of plain-spoken conservatism as one of Washington’s most recognizable political figures throughout the latter half of the 20th century, died Sunday.
“Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years,” according to a statement from his family.
He had announced in February that he was being treated for advanced lung cancer. President Biden visited Dole shortly after learning of the diagnosis.
Biden on Sunday released a statement mourning Dole.
“Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And 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,” Biden said. “I will miss my friend. But I am grateful for the times we shared, and for the friendship Jill and I and our family have built with Liddy and the entire Dole family.”
Arriving in Washington at the dawn of the Kennedy administration, Dole would serve for 27 years as a US senator from Kansas, including two stints as the Senate majority leader, though he might be best known for his unsuccessful run as the Republican presidential nominee against Bill Clinton in 1996, his third attempt at the White House. He also served as President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976 after Nelson Rockefeller declined to stay on as vice president.
Early in his Senate career, he was labeled a “hatchet man” by his critics and drew national attention for his vehement defense of President Richard Nixon throughout the Watergate scandal. He considered Nixon a friend and a mentor — later eulogizing Nixon at his funeral in 1994 as the “most durable public figure of our time.” In a notable departure from his sour public image, he choked up at the end of his remarks.
But in taking up the mantle of GOP leader in the Senate, Dole’s reputation became that of a whip smart lawmaker and a tough negotiator willing to work across the aisle with Democrats on issues such as Social Security reform, the Americans with Disabilities Act and landmark nutrition legislation.
“By all rights, he and I should have had a lousy relationship,” former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, who was the Senate’s top Democrat during Dole’s second stint as majority leader, said in a 2000 speech. “The fact that we did not was due to Bob Dole — to his civility, to his pragmatism, to his quick wit and self-effacing humor, and to his love of this country and to this United States Senate. His sense of fairness and decency is a standard for which everyone in public life should aim.”
In his book “What It Takes” about the 1988 election, journalist Richard Ben Cramer described Dole as a Senate leader who was always ready with a joke and a greeting and was “never more cheerful, more at peace, than he was in the wee hours, when a deal was going down and he was waiting for someone to crack, while he drank a milkshake and told old stories in the Senate dining room.”
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