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Bob Dole: the Republican Machiavelli

Bob Dole was only one of the five living previous GOP presidential nominees to endorse Donald Trump.

December 6, 2021 - 10:10am

With Bob Dole’s passing, Donald Trump is really, truly isolated this time. 

Lost on many in the supernova of ‘16 was that the 1996 Republican presidential nominee was the only living former standard-bearer of the Grand Old Party to endorse Manhattan’s most famous export. 

“The voters of our country have turned out in record numbers to support Mr. Trump. It is important that their votes be honored and it is time that we support the party’s presumptive nominee, Donald J. Trump,” Dole said five, long years ago. “I plan to attend the RNC convention in Cleveland to show my support for our party and our ticket, as I have done my entire life. We must unite as a party to defeat Hillary Clinton.” 

The veteran columnist Jeff Greenfield documents the war veteran Dole’s savvy and absolute partisanship in Politico

In the 1976 vice presidential debate, he referred twice to ‘four Democrat wars’ in the 20th century, provoking Walter Mondale to say that he ‘has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man.’ Bob Dole, who died in his sleep overnight Sunday at age 98, had a career often seen as a testament to absolute fidelity to the Republican Party.
- Jeff Greenfield, Politico

Greenfield’s analysis goes on to later sell Dole short as another hapless RINO, perhaps even a closet Dispatch subscriber (a neocon rag). He was simply too old and too partisan to change course. 

Yet in the piece Greenfield fails to take account of Dole’s Machiavellian sensibilities. The rise of Trump may have divided the Old Guard, but the Kansas Senator had long been a stalwart of the world of realpolitik long before 2016. As far back as 1976, Dole agreed to knife then-Vice President Nelson Rockfeller and become Gerald Ford’s running mate — a move to the Right to fend off then-Golden State Governor Ronald Reagan. 

The bleedin’-Kansan Dole then ran a belligerent campaign against future President George H.W. Bush (as well as future President Joe Biden) in 1988. While the world failed to spin in his direction on both runs, in 1996 he excitedly accepted the mantle of party tribune to run for president again. He failed for a third time, but he got his revenge against the Clinton family by betting on Trump.

On Sunday, Dole was hailed by President Biden, who relayed a conversation from earlier this year:

Like all true friendships, regardless of how much time has passed, we picked up right where we left off, as though it were only yesterday that we were sharing a laugh in the Senate dining room or debating the great issues of the day, often against each other, on the Senate floor. 
- Joe Biden

There was also a heartfelt tribute from Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump (a rare feat):

Bob Dole was an American war hero and true patriot for our Nation. He served the Great State of Kansas with honor and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service. Our Nation mourns his passing, and our prayers are with Elizabeth and his wonderful family.
- Donald Trump

Curt Mills is a senior reporter at the American Conservative.


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James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

What’s the point of this tosh?
Bob Dole was a man of his generation–so is Sleepy Joe–and his greatest accomplishment–truly honorable–was when he was 22 years old. Bravo to him for truly brave service. Sleepy Joe doesn’t have that and would never have been up to it.
But after Bob Dole left Kansas, he succumbed to Potomac Fever, and seemed to stay in Washington forever. A 1996 election slogan was “the White House or home,” but Bob was truly not in Kansas anymore. After he was “out of politics” he became a lobbyist, including lobbying for foreign governments.
In other words, he was a swamp creature since circa 1960. For 50+ years Dole was part of the problem, not the solution. He won’t be missed. Viagra commercials? Lobbying? Putting up his wife to run for President. Washington Power Couple–absolutely! Out of touch with the places that made them, ordinary people–you bet! The entitlement of the elites seems to know no bounds.
The endorsement of this feeble and completely irrelevant old man would have meant nothing to Trump or anyone else. Trump will rise or fall in 2024 on those who voted for Biden believing it would be a return to normalcy, with an avuncular competent, genuinely nice person in charge. Biden is none of those things.
Bob Doles time has long passed, though this will be a time of hagiography for the glory days, the greatest generation. Really? America has been in a steady decline since about 1960 (maybe 1970–you pick a year), but a decline without doubt. For 60+ years, Bob Dole was a large part of the problem, not the solution.