Bob Dole, Longtime Republican Politician, Passes Away at 98

user-gravatar
Updated Dec 6, 2021

Former Senator Bob DoleFormer Senator Bob DoleRobert "Bob" Joseph Dole, a former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate who fought in World War II, died on Sunday at the age of 98.

"It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep," said the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in a statement. "At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years."

As a decorated veteran and an attorney, Dole became a leading politician in the Republican party. He spent a quarter of a century in the Senate as the party's longest-serving leader until Mitch McConnell in June 2018 set a new record.

Dole was born in Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923, and grew up poor in the Great Depression. He battled in World War II, suffering near-fatal wounds after a 1945 fight in Italy. The injuries permanently disabled use of his right arm. Dole later received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his military service. 

During his political career, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973, chaired the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985, and led Senate Republicans from 1985 to 1996 as the Senate Majority Leader twice. He was integral in rescuing Social Security in 1983. And driven by his own experience with disability, Dole helped President George H. W. Bush push forward the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act while he was the Senate Majority Leader.

In 1996, Dole won the Republican party's nomination as presidential candidate, though he later lost the election to President Bill Clinton in a stinging defeat. Soon after, Dole retired from political office. Yet he remained active on several boards and councils as an influential voice in the Republican party.

In 2016, Dole endorsed Donald J. Trump for president as one of the few longtime Republican politicians to do so at that time.

In December 2018 at the Capitol Rotunda, during one of Dole's last public appearances, an aide helped Dole out of his wheelchair so that he could salute the casket of former President George H. W. Bush, fellow World War II veteran and once his political rival. Bush was the last president to have served in World War II. 

President Donald Trump in April 2019 signed a bill into law that authorized Dole's promotion to colonel in honor of his service. And in January 2018 at a ceremony that granted Dole the Congressional Gold Medal, Representative Nancy Pelosi of the Democratic party said, "Senator Bob Dole, for a lifetime spent defending, advancing, and exemplifying our proudest American ideals, we thank you."

In February, Dole was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. At the time, he said in a statement, "While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own."