At 98 and facing cancer, Bob Dole reckons with legacy of Trump and ponders future of GOP


Bob Dooley turns 98 on Thursday and is battling lung cancer, but he’s still outspoken about what’s happening in Washington he once helped lead — protecting Senate filibusters from the Keystone pipeline until the need to do so.

“Both sides use it,” the former Senate majority leader referred to the parliamentary rule, then praised the “boys from West Virginia” who are defending it. That would be Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. Dole decides on the spot that he wants to meet Munchkin – to invite him for a chat, with no big agenda, across party lines. Just like the old days.

During the 45-minute interview at his apartment on the Watergate campus, Dooley said, “I’m pretty busy, and he has other things he wants to do. He’s visiting the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Topeka and the University in Lawrence.” Off hopes to gain enough strength to make Kansas “another trip home” to visit students at the Dole Institute of Politics in Kansas.

When he blows out the candles on his birthday cake — at a celebration hosted by his wife, former North Carolina senator Elizabeth Dole, and is joined by a dozen or more friends — he wishes for a brief period of “very good health.” Will wish long.

Beginning with serious battlefield wounds in Italy during World War II, Robert Joseph Dole had no shortage of health challenges. He paid a 22-year-old second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division using his right arm and almost his life. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and began a chemotherapy regimen “that was about to kill me.”

Now he is receiving immunotherapy instead, less effective at fighting the disease but easier for him to tolerate. A day after being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he rested in a hospital chair using oxygen, his breathing worked occasionally but his mind clear and memory sharp.

Dole has held several important positions in Washington politics. He was a member of the House and chairman of the Republican National Committee. A senator and, eventually, a majority leader. A nominee for vice president (as Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976) and, after his third bid for the top job, nominated for president in 1996.

A Trumper, But ‘Trump Out’

He was one of the few elders of the traditional Republican establishment to endorse Donald Trump in 2016 and the only former presidential candidate to attend the convention nominating Trump. In a split with the 45th president, Dole said there’s no question Trump lost his re-election race in 2020 – rarely fair and square.

“He lost the election, and I’m sorry he did, but he did,” Dooley said. “She ran Rudy Giuliani all over the country claiming fraud. In all the lawsuits she filed and the statements she made, she had never cheated.”

“I’m a trumpeter,” Dooley said at one point during the conversation. But he added on another, “However, I’m out trump.”

In his days, Dole was known for a quick wit and a sharp partisanship, defending President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal and controversially referring to the “Democrat Wars” during the 1976 Vice Presidential debate. His tone is melodious now, and his proudest achievements are his victory in partnership with the Democrats.

He and New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan struck a bipartisan agreement to expand the solvency of the Social Security system in 1983, and he and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy worked to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990.

Bob Dole, right, was awarded the McGovern-Dole Leadership Award by then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2013.

‘I believe we have lost something’

He worries that the desire to negotiate, to compromise, to reach a deal seems elusive these days.

“I don’t like to second guess, but I believe we have lost something,” he said. “I can’t lay my hands on it, but as the world’s greatest democracy we’re just not where we need to be. And I don’t know how you fix it, but I hope there will be my A change in a lifetime.”

When Dole’s cancer diagnosis was announced in February, President Joe Biden brought several of his grandchildren and left the apartment to stay for an hour and a half. The two men served together in the Senate for nearly 24 years—Biden as a Democrat from Delaware, Dole as a Republican from Kansas.

“A great, kind, understanding, decent man,” Dole said of Biden. Still, he said the new president is leaning too far these days, and that he duped Biden about the Keystone pipeline. “I asked him, I said, ‘Why did you close that pipeline in (South) Dakota?'”

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