Former Kansas Senator Robert J. “Bob” Dole passed away on Sunday at the age of 98, according to a statement by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
“Senator Robert J. Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the statement said. “At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. A statement from the Dole family will be released soon.”
Dole was best known as the Republican nominee for president in 1996, running against incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton, who was at the peak of his popularity after moving to the political center. Though Dole lost in a landslide, his warnings that Clinton could not be trusted were later vindicated by the sexual scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment.
Born in 1923 in the small town of Russell, Kansas, Dole was a student and athlete at the University of Kansas when World War II broke out. He enlisted a year later in the U.S. Army Reserve Corps and was assigned to active duty in June 1943.
As the Topeka Capital-Journal recalled earlier this year:
Rotating around several U.S. camps and attending the Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia, Dole deployed to Italy as a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in late 1944.
But just a few months into that deployment, Dole on April 14, 1945, led an assault on Hill 913 north of Castel D’Aiano, with the soldiers taking heavy artillery and aerial fire. When he saw a fellow soldier go down, Dole went to help pull him into a manhole, and as he scrambled out, he felt a sharp sting in his shoulder.
Dole collapsed onto the battlefield, and it was nine hours before medics could evacuate him to a field hospital. He would spend the next two and a half years at the Percy Jones Army Medical Center in Battle Creek, Mich., in a head-to-hip plaster cast, having lost a kidney and full use of his right arm.
He was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He would hold a pen in his right hand so that people would not be alarmed by his disability when they met him.
Dole later attended the University of Arizona, and transferred back to Kansas, where he graduated with undergraduate and law degrees from Washburn University in Topeka in 1952. By then, he had already been elected to the Kansas State House of Representatives and launched his political career. He served as county attorney for Russell County, and won election to the U.S. House for four successive terms in the 1960s before running for Senator in 1968. He was reelected four times.
In 1976, Dole entered presidential politics as the running mate of then-incumbent President Gerald Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter. He would go on to lead Republicans in the Senate, as both majority and minority leader, before resigning in 1996 to focus on his ill-fated presidential campaign. He remained involved in politics, partly through his second wife, Elizabeth Dole, who represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 2003 through 2009, and partly through his own commentary.
Though seen as an establishment figure, Dole supported President Donald Trump — not uncritically, but with admiration for Trump’s policies and his achievements in office. In 2017, Dole openly praised Trump’s first trip to Europe, including his speech in Warsaw on the need to defend western civilization. During the 2020 presidential election, Dole spoke out in Trump’s defense against the Commission on Presidential Debates, saying that it appeared to be biased against the president.
Curiously, and somewhat controversially, following his political retirement, Dole also became an early pitchman for Viagra, the revolutionary medication for erectile dysfunction in men. In doing so, he removed the stigma from both the condition and the drug, opening a new world of sexual freedom for middle-aged and older couples.
Robert Dole will remain widely admired, both for his military heroism and for his public service, one of the greatest Americans never to win the presidency.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.