THE MacNEIL/LEHRER REPORT
Robert Dole Profile
June 4, 1979
Jim Lehrer talks to Robert Dole
Elizabeth Dole discusses her role in the campaign and what her role would be as first lady
Dole's campaign staff discusses the nuts and bolts of running for President.
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 political 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.