Dole's wry wit leaves his rivals with the last laugh

The candidates for the Republican presidential nomination offer much to laugh about, most of it unintentional. The only one of the bunch who might have found alternative employment as a stand-up comedian, as someone who deliberately sets out to be funny, is Bob Dole.

The oldest candidate at 72, the senator from Kansas has a wry wit that goes down well among the elder participants at his campaign rallies but apparently fails to make a hit with a broader American television audience trained to absorb their humour sign-posted, slapstick and spoon-fed. The public image he projects is dour, grave and sullen.

This is in large part because the TV people, who presumably know their viewers, discard the Dole one-liners when they select their soundbites. His comic delivery, they have judged, belongs to a bygone age, owing more to Humphrey Bogart and Jack Benny than to Robin Williams and David Letterman. The body language is stiff and restrained. The gravelly voice never changes pitch. And the granite features were not intended by nature to crack into a smile.

On Thursday night he made a brief appearance before a group of supporters, average age 60, shortly before the start of a live TV debate with his rival candidates. His face, as he was introduced to the crowd, appeared to show the pre-fight strain. But when he spoke he was coolly ironic, the Second World War hero playing himself, toning down his bravery as he prepares for a frontal attack on enemy lines. ''I'm very excited,'' he said, sounding anything but. ''They tell me we're gonna have debate after a while.''

The tension dissolved. The audience laughed, relieved, confident now their man was made of the right stuff. ''My wife, Elizabeth, will be there at the debate,'' he went on. ''She tells me: 'Smile, smile, smile'.'' Again the audience laughed, savouring the self-deprecating indiscretion, the jibe at the stage-managing TV electioneering requires. ''Some of these questions are very serious,'' he continued. ''But I'll be smiling.''

During the debate itself the other candidates, notably Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan, came across as either artfully or painfully earnest. Only Mr Dole remained entirely himself, drily contemptuous of the contrived proceedings. When Mr Buchanan railed against him, he replied, ''Thanks for the endorsement, Pat.'' When Mr Buchanan barked, it was: ''Are you having a bad day, Pat?''

It is said of Mr Dole that he inspires, among his Senate peers, a rare affection. The people who see him close up clearly adore him. But that does not carry into American living-rooms, which is why the wise money is going on Bill Clinton, a TV showman for the Nineties who knows that what the public wants is bombast and ham, not dry, pithy one-liners.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions