Robert Dole Profile
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ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. We’ve been keeping track of the growing list of people who would like to be President as they emerge this spring. The list of Republican hopefuls has recently been increased by the announcement by Senator Robert Dole of Kansas.
Back in 1972 the Senator said working with the President was simple. “When the President has a view and I have a view, we compromise and adopt his.”
Now Mr. Dole has made it clear he’s tired of compromising and wants to call the shots himself. Standing under an American flag in front of the yellow one-story city hall in his home town of Russell, Kansas, the fifty-five-year-old Senator threw his hat into the ring with a call for a return to American values and momentum.
Tonight, a look at Mr. Dole and his campaign. The last time that Robert Dole stood on such a platform in his home town was in 1976, when he and Gerald Ford kicked off their campaign to win the White House for the Republicans. Dole moved forward greeting the crowd, and then his voice broke. “You made me what I am,” he said, brushing away tears. “When I needed help, this town came through.”
Dole was born in Russell, the flat plains of central western Kansas, to a conservative Republican father who ran the White Way Cafe on Main Street, managed a grain elevator and ran a creamery and feed and seed business as well. Mrs. Dole took in sewing to help pay for the four children’s upbringing. Dole himself jerked sodas at the drugstore and starred as a high school athlete until signing up for a pre-med course at the University of Kansas.
His plans were cut short by World War II. He enlisted in the army in 1943, and as a twenty-one year-old-second lieutenant was wounded by machine-gun fire in northern Italy, He ultimately lost a kidney and much of the use of one arm. Dole spent the next three and a half years in hospitals, where he met and married an occupational therapist, Phyllis Holden. He returned to Russell with a wife and no use of one arm, and found a gift from his home town: $5,200, to continue the operations needed to restore the arm to some use.
Dole went on to law school and a political career that began even before he graduated. He won a seat in the Kansas legislature in 1950, the first of what were to be eleven straight political victories. He served four two-year terms as Russell County Attorney. In 1961 he was elected to the House of Representatives, and re-elected three times, finally reaching the Senate in 1968.
Dole was an outspoken freshman Senator who immediately took up the cudgels for Richard Nixon, defending him on Vietnam, his missile programs, and his Supreme Court nominations. In gratitude, Nixon made him chairman of the Republican National Committee, delighting many conservatives. Senator Barry Goldwater said, “He’s the first man we’ve had around here in a long time who will grab the other side by the hair and drag them down the hill.” The honor became a mixed blessing for Dole as the Watergate scandal engulfed the party. “It must have happened on my night off,” Dole joked, and loyally covered the country to defend Nixon.
But Dole had never been a favorite of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and despite his efforts they called him up to Camp David and summarily fired him. When he heard that all Nixon’s conversations had been taped, Dole remarked, “Thank goodness whenever I was in the Oval Office I only nodded.” And when asked whether Nixon would campaign for him in 1974, Dole replied, “I wouldn’t mind if Nixon flew over the state.”
Then it was 1976, and Gerald Ford was looking for a vice presidential running mate. Dole was now well known in Republican circles as a conservative, given one of the highest ratings by the right-wing Americans for Constitutional Action. But his Senate record also showed support of legislation for the handicapped and civil rights. He was also known for party loyalty and toughness. Gerald Ford found the package irresistible, and announced that Dole would be his running mate.
GERALD FORD: I am really thrilled with the opportunity of having Bob Dole as my running mate. (Cheers, applause from audience.)
MacNEIL: Dole went stumping around the country with hard one-liners in an attack approach that rapidly brought him a reputation as Ford’s gunslinger and gut fighter.
(October 5, 1976.)
ROBERT DOLE: If you want a liberal ticket, you’ve got a choice. You can vote for Governor Carter and Walter Mondale, or you can vote for the Carter-Meany ticket, either way, I think Meany’s sort of a stand-in. (Applause.) Someone asked George Meany why lie didn’t run for President, he said, “Why step down?” (Laughter.) He runs that party anyway, and he runs their candidates and he tells them what to do.
MacNEIL: The end of the campaign brought Dole’s first poli ‘ tical defeat, and a mixed review from his peers. To some he’d shown himself, as former Attorney General William Saxbe put it, a hatchet man, whose style was so abrasive that, as Saxbe put it, “he couldn’t sell beer on a troop ship.” Others thought he’d done what needed to be done, and feel that he has greatly tempered his style since then. The man who once quipped that “a Republican has to have a sense of humor because there are so few of us” is with us tonight in Washington. But first, to some of his staff. The Senator’s campaign manager is Tom Bell, who is well seasoned in Washington politics. He was deputy director of Young Voters in the ’72 Nixon campaign, and a political consultant to the Republican National Committee and the Republican Senatorial Committee. Mr. Bell also worked as an administrative assistant to Senator Bill Brock of Tennessee. Mr. Bell, what’s the main problem facing the new Dole campaign?
TOM BELL: Well, I think the first thing we have to do is to develop in the minds of our own electorate that Bob Dole is a serious presidential candidate, that he plans to make the race and win it.
MacNEIL: They don’t think he is?
BELL: Well, I think that Senator Dole made the decision to run rather late, in November or December of this past year, and many other candidates have been running for a long time. Ronald Reagan, I think, since he was defeated in 1976, and John Connally for several years, and George
Bush for a year and a half; so we’ve got a little ground to make up.
MacNEIL: How does he stand, in terms of identification, with the Republican voter?
BELL: Well, we haven’t done any of our own surveys, but the last survey we saw on national voter identification showed that about fifty-five percent of the Republicans in the country recognized Bob Dole.
MacNEIL: Is the image left from the ’76 campaign that I just referred to, that rather abrasive image, as some called it, is that still a problem?
BELL: Well, we thought it might be, but the more we travel and the more we talk with voters across the country, the less of a problem we think it’s going to be. And if the reaction from his announcement at Russell is any example, I think that picture, or the picture that some have in their minds of Bob Dole from 1976, will fade very rapidly. He had a job to do in that campaign, he did it well, the polls demonstrate that wherever he went he was effective and the Ford/Dole ticket improved; so I think that he carried out his role in 1976 very well.
MacNEIL: You think it needs to be shed, that idea, in order to be effective next year?
BELL: I think among some groups — and I think they’re rather small groups — we need to demonstrate that Senator Dole is by his very nature a very positive campaigner and political officeholder.
MacNEIL: Tell me something as the campaign manager; why, in your opinion, Bob Dole? Is it just a case of, well, everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t we have a try, or is there something that is unique about Dole?
BELL: Well, I think that the introduction show, or montage, that you did is a good example of why Bob Dole will be elected President. He comes from the heartland of America. When he returned to Russell, I think it was a very significant opening of his campaign because there are a lot of Russells in America and Bob Dole has always represented those kinds of people and that kind of place. And I think that he’s a mainstream Republican, I think he’s demonstrated the ability to overcome huge odds, both physically and in political campaigns, and that’s the kind of person, that person that can do the almost impossible, that the American people are looking for.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Another alumnus from Senator Brock’s staff is the Dole campaign finance director. He is Bob Perkins, until recently national finance director for the Republican National Committee. He’s co-author of a guide for complying with federal campaign spending laws. Mr. Perkins, is money-raising a problem for Senator Dole?
ROBERT PERKINS: Well, fundraising is always a challenge for any candidate, and like any campaign, we’re working hard to fund the necessary component of our campaign.
MacNEIL: Is it hard because you’ve begun so late?
PERKINS: Well, I think we have a number of drawbacks; we don’t start with an extremely personally wealthy candidate, so we don’t have a large circle of rich friends to go to. We don’t have a large political action committee that’s accumulated 300,000 or 400,000 names or a direct mail company that has a list like that to make instantly available to us, so we don’t have those proven small givers at our fingertips. So we lack some of the assets that some of the other candidates have that make early fundraising more difficult, yes.
MacNEIL: What is bringing the money in? What is his asset?
PERKINS: I think it’s a combination of things. I think that Bob Dole is his best asset; he’s established record in the House and Senate and as a vice presidential candidate. He’s spoken out on the issues, and I think people see him as an opportunity to have a new voice and to exert a new influence on the course of the American political scene, and that’s really what they’re investing in when they invest in the Dole presidential campaign.
MacNEIL: Is it issue money more than person money?
PERKINS: Very much so, I think so. Well, certainly any campaign must start with the friends and associates of the candidate and his wife, or the candidate and her spouse, as the case may be; in the end, our campaign is funded by people that share the beliefs of Bob Dole.
MacNEIL: Does that make it to a large degree conservative issue money?
PERKINS: Not necessarily; I think terms like “liberal” and “conser- vative” are a little outworn. I think concerned money, people that care about the future of this country, people that think we need a new direction, whether it’s in our energy policy or in our foreign affairs or -whether it’s in hospital legislation-, I think it’s people that feel it’s time to make a positive commitment to changing our government. .
MacNEIL: I was thinking that some conservative fundraisers have been very successful by raising funds on issues that appeal to conservative voters, regardless of the person attached to the issues, and I was just wondering if it was the issues that the Senator stands for that is bringing the money in.
PERKINS: I think it’s the linkage of the Senator to the issues and the fact that he’s proven himself as an effective spokesman on certain issues. I don’t think it’s the issue alone.
MacNEIL: Are you encouraging him to stress some issues to increase his sort of fundraising profile?
PERKINS: No, we sort of are taking the other viewpoint; we’re looking at the issues that he’s been strong on in the past and is clearly identified with and trying to use those issues to raise money.
MacNEIL: Which is the most effective one from those?
PERKINS: Well, I think that it’s difficult to pick one or two. I think clearly the Senator’s stand on a strong energy policy is very effective; I think his bill before the Senate Finance Committee and the work he’s done over time on hospital cost legislation is very helpful; he has a strong bloc of support in the farm community for the ongoing work he’s done in the Senate Agriculture Committee and the stands he’s taken on behalf of the American farmer. I think those are three good areas.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: In addition to a campaign manager and a finance director, Senator Dole also has a full partner in his campaign for President, his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole. Mrs. Dole recently resigned her position as a Federal Trade commissioner in order to work in her husband’s campaign. An attorney, Mrs. Dole had been on the FTC since 1973. Mrs. Dole, in practical terms, what does being a full partner in this campaign mean?
ELIZABETH DOLE: It means that I’ll be out campaigning, speaking, answering the questions, holding the press conferences; I’ll probably be involved in fundraising to some extent, organizing, the strategy sessions -anyplace that I’m needed, really.
LEHRER: Does that mean giving advice on political tactics, fun-draising, issues, that kind of thing?
E. DOLE: Well, Bob and I work together on most everything that we do, so I’m sure that there will be some ideas which I’ll want to pass on from time to time. (Laughing.)
LEHRER: Do you-all agree on the issues?
E. DOLE: Almost all of them. There are a few where we have differences of opinion.
LEHRER: Any serious differences?
E. DOLE: no, not really. (Laughing.) I think it would be unusual if a husband and wife agreed on every single issue, don’t you, because we come from different educational experiences, different job experiences, really different frames of reference.
LEHRER: Do you feel that your own experience here in Washington in government gives you a special perspective that most political wives do not have?
E. DOLE: I think it will be useful; I would certainly hope so, because my entire career has been spent in government service. I would hope that this would be useful to my husband as we move through the campaign and also when he’s elected.
LEHRER: All right, speaking of when he’s elected, how do you fore- see the full partnership carrying over into the White House?
E. DOLE: I would imagine that I would continue to speak out on the issues, to testify, possibly, before Congress, to do many of the things that I’ve been doing in the past. I’m concerned about the number of issues which have been important to me through the years in the White House Consumer Office and at the Federal Trade Commission, and I imagine that I would just continue to take an active part in those matters.
LEHRER: Have you advised your husband to figure out a way to shed this image of being the hatchet man, the gunslinger, that sort of thing?
E. DOLE: You know, I think he had a role to play in 1976. When we left Kansas City, when he went on the ticket, the polls were showing forty points-behind. And he came a long way and almost made it in that period of time. I was proud of Bob Dole’s role; the farm states were right there in the Republican column, the ticket did show an increase everywhere he went during the campaign, and I think it was a role that was assigned to him and when you’re that far behind the inconsistencies have to be pointed out in the other party’s platform and their positions. This time, Bob Dole will be the candidate himself, he will be setting the tone, and it seems to me that the American people will have a chance to see a lot more of Bob Dole than they did in 1976 because the attention in ’76 was really on the top man on the ticket, on the President. Bob had his role to play, but in terms of his personal characteristics I don’t think that those were highlighted as much as they will be this time around.
LEHRER: What do you see as his major problem going in, politically?
E. DOLE: Well, I don’t really see any major problems now,. you know. (Laughing.) I’m very optimistic. I feel that we’re certainly going to have to do some hard work in certain areas, because Bob did want to be certain that President Ford would not be entering the primaries before made his decision. He felt that it would be the height of ingratitude for him to run if President Ford intended to, and so perhaps we got a little bit of a late start, but I think there’s plenty of time; and we’re going to be hard at work to make up any lost time.
LEHRER: Mrs. Dole, thank you. Now to the other half of the partnership, the subject of all this discussion, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas. Senator, are you consciously setting out to get rid of that short-tongue, hatchet-tongue image that came out of ’76?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I think probably in that’s true. With an asset like Elizabeth, that helps right off the bat, and that tones me down a bit. But I would say without being defensive that we had a certain role to play in ’76; we had, as Stub Spencer could say — and he was our campaign manager — a rose garden strategy, where President Ford occupied the rose garden and I went out into the briar patch to stir things up; and we knew we’d be scratched up a bit, it was that kind of a campaign when you’re behind. But it was over and there was a certain amount of scapegoating — I guess they faulted me some; some faulted Nelson Rockefeller because we didn’t carry New York, some faulted Connally because we lost Texas, some didn’t believe Reagan worked hard enough, and then finally it came full circle that maybe Ford didn’t do enough himself. But we made a great effort, I think we were a good team, as President Ford says so often; we were a good team, we gave it all we had, we almost won. And it would have been, you know, nearly a miracle had we done it.
LEHRER: Part of that old image, of course, from ’76 had to do with your sense of humor. You’re not going to drop the one-liner …
Sen. DOLE: I don’t want to change my personality. I mean, if people are asleep during your speech it doesn’t do a great deal of good. I like to think that people are awake when I start talking and that they may doze off during the middle of it, but I hate to put them to sleep before I open my mouth. And so my view is if you can laugh at yourself and say things that don’t attack anyone personally, to sort of, you know, get people up after a big heavy meal and a couple of speakers, that you’re going to do very well, they’re going to listen to you.
LEHRER: All right. You’ve said that you’re not going to criticize anybody in your campaign, including President Carter. Why is that?
Sen. DOLE: Well, I mean from the standpoint of not criticize him personally, which I haven’t done; but accountability’s something else, and it seems to me that I should be accountable for what I say and what I do, and certainly President Carter should be held accountable. From that standpoint, we’ll be asking for an accounting from time to time.
LEHRER: What do you have, Bob Dole, that Jimmy Carter does not have, in terms of being President of the United States?
Sen. DOLE: The bottom line would be experience. Of course, he served as governor of his state and in the state legislature; I’ve served in the state legislature and the Congress, I’ve dealt with federal programs now for eighteen and a half years; I’ve been in on the action, I’m ‘ the ranking Republican on Finance, which handles taxes and health care and welfare, social security, the trade legislation; I’ve been an active spokesman for farmers. I mean, I think I really understand what makes you effective as a legislator and as an administrator. I’ve been able to work with Democrats, whether it’s the late Senator Humphrey or George McGovern or whoever; so I believe getting along with people, being able to compromise, and at the same time being my own man.
LEHRER: One of your campaign press releases that I read today talks of replacing grits with guts in the White House. What does that mean?
Sen. DOLE: I haven’t seen that one, is that one of mine?
LEHRER: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)
Sen. DOLE: That’s a good idea. I wish I’d thought of that. (Laughs.) I assume that’s some reference to President Carter.
LEHRER: Right, absolutely. Is that the image that you want to proj ect?
Sen. DOLE: I want to be a stand-up guy in the right sense. In other words, as I said in Russell, Kansas, I want people to know my weaknesses so they can accommodate for them; I want them to know my strengths so they can rely on them. None of us are perfect, and certainly I’m not the perfect candidate; but I believe I’m a stand-up person. If I make up my mind, I’ll tell the American people, I’ll provide the leadership, I will not vacillate; and I really believe there is a search for that right now.
LEHRER: You just went through your experience and your strong points. What do you see as your weaknesses?
Sen. DOLE: I think perhaps we’ve started a bit late; we’ll be moving up in the polls. I would say there are probably, as I view it, four principal contenders and I’m in that four. I don’t believe President Ford will be a candidate, in the primaries at least, so we’re moving very quickly. The image problem I don’t believe will be a lasting problem. After all, it was my role in ’76, I hope I played it well. Now I’m the candi-
date, I will set the tone, and if I should adopt a stance that somehow disturbs the American people, I’ll learn it very early.
LEHRER: Why should the Republicans choose you over Ronald Reagan, say?
Sen. DOLE: Well, without any — I think just on the positive side, I think I have the right philosophy, I believe I’m about the right age, I’ve been very active in the Republican Party, I’ve worked very well with the Reagan Republicans and the Ford …
LEHRER: Those are of course code phrases that Mr. Reagan is older than you and was at one time a Democrat?
Sen. DOLE: No, I think that’s great. I want to bring more Democrats. I think it’s good that Governor Connally changed parties. I think that’s a plus for us. It’s good that Governor Reagan changed parties; that’s a plus for the Republican Party. My wife has come over to the Republican Party; I mean, she’s sort of shifted from Democrat to independent to Republican. I’m now working on her mother. (Laughter.)
LEHRER: She took an interim step.
Sen. DOLE: But I want to bring more people into our party; it’s certainly not a code word.
LEHRER: But specifically weighing, what would you tell a Republican, though, who says, “Hey, look, I’ve been for Reagan. Why should I switch to you?” I mean, what are the negatives of Reagan and the negatives of Connally? You’re not going to talk about the negatives of these two men in the campaign?
Sen. DOLE: I’m going to talk about Bob Dole, the next President, the positive candidate, who really believes — and I say this in all sincerity — that we’re going to be elected in 1980, not just because of what we’re against as a party or what Bob Dole’s against, but what I’m for, and have I been effective or is it just a campaign stance that I’m taking to try to attract certain people to our party? I believe that with a lot of hard work and organization, in three or four months you’re going to see a change in the polls and we’re going to be moving up, and I believe there’ll be some Reagan slippage. I mean, when he becomes an active candidate, or when anybody becomes an active candidate who’s been around quite a while and been in a lot of campaigns, there’s going to be erosion. If not, he’ll be the nominee.
LEHRER: What do you see as the Dole constituency right now?
Sen. DOLE: I think the Dole constituency is made up from maybe starting with Republicans — I’ve been the chairman of my party, I’ve been one of the hard workers, I’ve been all over this country almost every year-, every weekend I’ll go to help a state senator or a sheriff or someone running for governor or Congress. In the long run, you know, people like that; I mean, I think I’m appreciated by the Republican Party. I think, as Tom Bell indicated very well, people want to know that I’m a serious candidate. We’ve crossed that bridge, we’ve made our announcement. Specific constituencies, I think, would include handicapped Americans who are looking for leadership; veterans — I’m very strong with the Legion, the VFW, the Disabled American Veterans; farm people and rural America, plus a lot of work I’ve done for New York City and other areas through the Finance Committee I believe in the final roundup will give me a broad-based support that I believe I need. I’ve worked with black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jewish Americans — it just seems to me that there isn’t any group out there gunning, politically speaking, for Bob Dole.
LEHRER: A couple of things on the issues, the SALT-II treaty, for one. You recently warned that it could backfire on the Republicans if they turned the treaty into a partisan issue. Is that based on some polling that you have done about the way the American people feel about the SALT treaties?
Sen. DOLE: No, it was based on the feeling that most of us who might want to do that or at least might have that tendency voted for SALT-I. Republicans supported that in great numbers, and if we just did a reverse now because we had a Democrat in the White House, it would be, I think, a tactical mistake. We all have questions about SALT and about SALT-II, but it’s certainly not going to be a party position; we have Republicans who have indicated their opposition to it, we have, I think, some who’ve indicated support for it. Most of us are in the uncommitted category.
LEHRER: You’re still uncommitted.
Sen. DOLE: I’m uncommitted; as I said, I think I’m straight up. I haven’t tried to deceive anyone, I’ve chaired breakfast meetings with Henry Kissinger and General Haig and Lord Chalfont, who now advises Margaret Thatcher, and Fritz Kramer, who’s been an advisor at the Pentagon; we’ve tried to learn. I’ve gone to Geneva., I sat in on the session with the Russians and the American delegation trying to learn; I did almost on a daily basis. I haven’t made a judgment yet.
LEHRER: When are you going to make the judgment?
Sen. DOLE: I would guess it would be several months. I don’t even see the Senate voting on it this year.
LEHRER: Have you toyed with the possibility of being the one conservative in the Republican nomination race that would support SALT?
Sen. DOLE: I really haven’t toyed with that; I mean, I’ve…
LEHRER: I mean political …
Sen. DOLE: …You get all these little things dancing around in your head sometimes, but …
LEHRER: Is that one dancing?
Sen. DOLE: Well, it’s sort of a waltz now, I mean, not fast.
LEHRER: (Laughing.) Okay. But it’s a possibility, right? You haven’t made up your mind.
Sen. DOLE: I think it’s a possibility. I’ve told my friends, you know, with appropriate amendments I think some of us could support SALT.
Now, my previous statements have been — I think Secretary Vance indicated to someone he thought Bob Dole was for the treaty. Well, I didn’t say that. I suggested I was totally open-minded, I wanted to be persuaded. All I want to know is, is this in the interest of the United States? Is it in our interest — I know it’s got to be in the Soviets’ interest — but what do we lose, what do we gain, is it in our total interest, and if so, I can vote for it. It’s probably going to take some amendments.
LEHRER: Do you think that a Senator who voted for SALT-II could be nominated by the Republican Party for President?
Sen. DOLE: Well, again, it depends on how we finally vote on SALT. I didn’t support the Panama Canal, I didn’t believe the amendments good enough. But if SALT were properly amended or if in the process of debate and hearings we’re persuaded it doesn’t need amendment, then I think we have an obligation to support it. I mean, it seems to me that we go back to the Versailles Treaty in 1919, and we saw some stubborn Senators and a stubborn President, it may have been a disaster for us down the road in World War II. It cost us dearly. So it just seems to me that my obligation is to be straight up, not to play games, and try to find out as much as I can about SALT.
LEHRER: Senator, you’re in this race to stay, for President, is that right?
Sen. DOLE: I’m in the race to stay — we’re in the race to stay, I might add. I believe we have the makings of a good organization, with Bob and Tom in New York and Elizabeth here.
LEHRER: In a word, would you run for Vice President again if asked?
Sen. DOLE: Well, I haven’t been asked, but you don’t run for that office. I’m running for President, we’re going to be successful, we have great organization in New Hampshire and Iowa, we’re working in Florida; it looks like a good year for Bob Dole in 1980.
LEHRER: Thank you both very much. Robin?
MacNETL: Yeah; thank you, Senator, Mrs. Dole. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: Thank you, Mr. Perkins, Mr. Bell. That’s all for tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow night. I’m Robert MacNeil. Good night.