Bob Dole, a long-serving Republican senator and the party’s 1996 presidential nominee, died on Sunday at the age of 98.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation confirmed Dole’s death in a tweet.
“We regret to inform you that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died peacefully this morning. He had faithfully served the United States of America for 79 years when he died at the age of 98.”
Dole embodied the post-World War II generation in Congress in many ways. He had served in a combat division in Italy and sustained severe wounds that required him to remain in military hospitals for years following the war. Despite his loss of use of his right arm, he graduated from law school and went on to serve as a public prosecutor, state legislator, representative, and United States senator.
“Bob was a rare American statesman in our history,” President Joe Biden said of Dole, who served in the Senate alongside him. “A war hero and one of the Greatest Generation’s greatest. And he was also a friend to whom I could turn for trusted advice or a witty remark at precisely the right moment to calm frayed nerves.”
Numerous former presidents expressed similar sentiments, recalling Dole as a consummate statesman and exemplar of the Greatest Generation’s best.
“Senator Bob Dole was a war hero, a political leader, and a statesman — with a career and demeanor evocative of a time when members of the Greatest Generation adhered to a certain code, putting country ahead of party,” former President Barack Obama said.
Former President George W. Bush stated in a statement that Dole “embodied the best of American values.” “During World War II, he defended them in uniform. He lobbied for their passage in the United States Senate. And he demonstrated them through his actions as a father, husband, and friend. That friendship benefited our entire family, including my father.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who defeated Dole in the 1996 presidential re-election race, praised Dole for dedicating his entire life to serving the American people. “After everything he gave during the war, he was under no obligation to give more. However, he did. His example should serve as an inspiration to people today and for future generations.”
Dole was a senatorial giant, serving as a powerful committee chairman in the early 1980s and then as party leader from 1985 until resigning 11 years later, in 1996, to focus on his presidential campaign. He had easily won the Republican nomination that year but faced an uphill battle against incumbent President Bill Clinton. Dole previously served as the party’s vice presidential nominee in 1976, alongside President Gerald Ford, and as a presidential candidate in 1980 and 1988.
“When you consider that Bob Dole was elected to the House of Representatives the same year that John F. Kennedy was elected president, and that he went on to play a significant role in the defeat of Bill Clinton’s health insurance plan in 1994, and then ran for president in 1996, you realize that the last four decades of the twentieth century were, in a sense, Bob Dole territory,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.
Dole remained active in Washington after retirement, serving on presidential commissions and assisting his wife, Elizabeth Dole, who served in the United States Senate from 2003 to 2007. He endorsed Donald Trump’s Republican presidential candidacy in 2016. He also had a brief career in television commercials for Viagra and Pepsi and appeared on The Simpsons on occasion. He had been deteriorating in recent years.
Dole, a native of Russell, Kan., was a standout high school and college athlete who trained for an Olympic tryout while a student at the University of Kansas in the early 1940s. He arrived in Washington in 1960 as a House of Representatives member and won his first of five Senate elections in 1968. In the Senate, he established himself as a staunch partisan supporter of President Richard Nixon.
A tenacious partisan
Dole’s legislative career spanned more than three decades, and he was involved in the majority of the era’s great legislative battles. However, his record in Congress was more successful than his electoral career. He is the only person to have been nominated for president and vice president without being elected to either office.