Robert Joseph Dole, who overcame serious war wounds to become a leading figure in American politics for more than a third of a century, has died. He was 98. Dole died early Sunday morning in his sleep, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said in a statement. Dole’s death took place almost 10 months after he publicly said he was beginning treatment for stage 4 lung cancer.
Dole was one of the best known figures on Capitol Hill as he represented Kansas in Congress for 35 years. From 1961 to 1969 Dole was a lawmaker in the House of Representatives and then went to the Senate from 1969 to 1996. He became the Republican Party’s longest-serving leader until June 2018, when Mitch McConnell broke that record.
As successful as he was as a lawmaker, Dole was never able to translate that into victory on the national stage. He sought national office four times and lost every time. In 1976 he was the Republican vice presidential candidate on the ticket with President Gerald Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter. He went on to pursue the presidency three times. He first ran against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination and didn’t make it very far. He once again lost the opportunity to become his party’s presidential candidate in 1988. Dole finally won his party’s nomination in 1996, but lost to President Bill Clinton.
Although now he is often remembered as a Republican leader in a time of gentler, less confrontational politics, Dole was often ruthless with his rivals, whether they were Republicans or Democrats. In a vice presidential debate, for example, Dole famously said all U.S. wars of the century were “Democrat wars.” Walter Mondale replied: “I think Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight.”
Dole lost the use of his right arm from a war wound that led him to spend three years in the hospital. He became a key advocate for the disabled and was instrumental in getting the 1990 Americans with Disabilities act approved that prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. After he ended his political career, Dole devoted much of his time to raising money for the World War II Memorial in Washington. When thousands of veterans gathered for the dedication of the memorial in 2004, Dole called it “our final reunion.”
In the 2016 presidential campaign, Dole endorsed Jeb Bush and even joined his campaign. After Bush dropped out, Dole became one of the few elders of the Republican establishment to endorse Donald Trump. He later praised Trump for having “immensely helped restore our position as leader of the free world” but broke with the former president by dismissing his claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. “I’m a Trumper,” Dole told USA Today in July. “I’m sort of Trumped out, though.”