A tortured Dole plods well-worn primary path

If only there were no elections, and all that mattered was endorsements by the party's great and good. If only a nominee emerged by consensus of his peers, selected on the grounds of age, gravitas, experience, achievement. If only. Bob Dole would long since have been anointed as the Republican challenger to Bill Clinton this autumn.

Alas, the rules of the game are different. Some time this spring Bob Dole - senior Senator from Kansas, for 12 years the Republican leader in the Senate and by any yardstick among the towering figures of recent American politics - may indeed emerge as his party's choice to recapture the White House from the Democrats. But it will only have been after an ordeal which in the best of circumstances will have consumed far more of his money and energy than he ever expected, and one which, by the Dole law of rewards properly earned, he should have been spared. After all this is his fourth, and at 72 his last, bid for national office.

As Gerald Ford's vice-presidential candidate in 1976, he lost. Running in his own right for the White House in 1980 and again in 1988, he lost. Surely now in 1996 it is his turn. Unfortunately, first of all there's a campaign to survive.

Bob Dole on the stump, as opposed to Bob Dole the war hero or Bob Dole the consummate legislator, is an excruciation. He knows he is no good at it. The smile is tight, almost a grimace. No folksy gimmicks for him when he addresses his supporters. In his Washington uniform of starched shirt and cufflinks, crisp pressed suit and tassled loafers, he looks the authoritative and consummate insider that he is. One-on-one, he can be witty and warm - but never enough to disguise a fervent wish that the entire process would simply disappear.

Hence too the protective retinue lined up on the podium at every appearance: not Secret Service men but a selection of the state governors and congressmen who have endorsed him. Twenty-two of the 31 Republican governors are on board, collected like votes for a tight Senate bill. Dutifully they troop up on stage, placing their state organisations at his disposal - Terry Branstad here in Iowa, Steve Merrill in New Hampshire, and so on across the country. But no army of dignitaries can ward off the numbing banality of Dole the public speaker.

"I wanna talk about America, and making America great again," he invariably begins, in that clipped Kansan twang. Then follows a ragbag of generalities about values, taxes, the return of power to the states, and of course the balanced budget which would knock 2 per cent off interest rates. Finally the weary peroration, the stress on his experience: "I've been tested, I don't have risky ideas, I've worked with presidents, I've learned from presidents, I know the job."

George Bush, famously, lacked the "vision thing". But compared with Bob Dole he was a teeming fountain of ideas. Mr Dole positively distrusts ideas (hence his visible discomfort at over-exposure to Newt Gingrich). He is a pragmatist, a compromiser who understands that politics is the art of the possible. For better or worse though, visions are part and parcel of presidential politics.

And what would he do, once in the White House? Says Dole, "I'm just gonna serve." Only obliquely does he refer to his most valiant service of all for his country, under German fire in Italy in 1945, which cost him the use of his right arm, and almost his life.

Today Mr Dole faces another kind of torment, the awful gnawing possibility that once again he will ultimately be defeated. Three months ago his nomination looked an uninspiring certainty. Today he remains the favourite, though only just. But vulnerability has brought a curious nobility which had previously escaped him; if he does come to grief, the moment will in its way be tragic.

Bob Dole may be a relic of the past, standard-bearer of a Republican party which vanished with the Gingrich-led conservative takeover of 1994, forced into uneasy homage to the religious right, especially powerful here in Iowa. But he has given his life to politics, he has been embroiled in no scandal, he peddles no snake oil like his rivals, and his legislative record has won him bipartisan respect. "Frankly," one Democratic senator reportedly remarked in private, "in a secret ballot half my colleagues would vote for him as President."

Indeed, had he not misread New Hampshire's loathing of taxes in 1988, he and not George Bush might have been elected that year, and President Dole might be completing his second term. To prepare himself for 1996, he has taken every "No-New-Taxes" pledge in sight. But once again, another Yankee patrician - this time one from the New Jersey horse country who has never fought an election in his life - has emerged from nowhere to threaten him, armed with novelty, a populist flat tax plan, and unprecedented negative advertising.

Steve Forbes is everything Bob Dole resents: born rich, "untested" by adversity, who simply doesn't deserve to be where he is. But by his own abrasive standards, he has borne the torment stoically, biting back his cutting, self-destructive wit. "Stop lying about my record," snarled Bob Dole at George Bush eight years ago, in a remark that sealed his image as a sour, mean loser. This time surrogates like Mr Merrill are doing the obligatory Forbes-bashing in TV counter-ads, while Mr Dole plods along the platitudinous high road. But their cost is heavy, even for his well- financed campaign.

As today's climax in Iowa has neared, Mr Dole has been emphasising his Washington record on behalf of cornbelt farmers, his military heroism and his credentials with the Christian right. Every sign is he will win; by 10 to 15 percentage points, the pundits believe. Perhaps it will be enough to see him safely next week through the minefield of New Hampshire. But look again at 1988. In Iowa Mr Dole scored 37 per cent, a more convincing victory than is likely this time. But Mr Bush beat him in New Hampshire, and four weeks later had finished him off.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there