Former Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum, titans of politics in Kansas and the nation for a generation, told several hundred people Saturday they were deeply worried about polarized and dysfunctional government in Washington.
And Donald Trump would make things worse, Kassebaum said.
“I’m really, really terribly disappointed in my own Republican Party, with the leadership of Donald Trump,” she said, sitting next to Dole on a stage at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. “I do not like the language. … I’m sorry, Bob.”
Dole has endorsed Trump.
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The onetime presidential candidate said he thought the atmosphere in the Senate had improved in recent months. But he agreed that lack of communication and cordiality has led to a breakdown of the legislative process, compared to his time in Washington.
“We were traditional Kansas Republican conservatives,” Dole said. “We understood, to get things done, you have Ds and you have Rs — but (we) also had friends.”
Dole, 93, spoke in a clear voice for more than an hour. He traded stories and easy laughter with Kassebaum, who is 84.
“I learned a lot from her,” Dole said, calling her the most popular politician in either party during their Senate service.
The pair stayed away from presidential politics — until nearly the end, when Kassebaum denounced Trump.
His language “doesn’t help us to come together in a thoughtful way, and with respect,” she said, her voice rising. “We have so many major changes occurring. … You can’t just say we’re going to build a wall.”
The onetime U.S. senator from Kansas said she was “more sad than mad” about the presidential race.
Dole offered only lukewarm support for the nominee when discussing the campaign. “I think Nancy’s undecided on this race,” he quipped, to laughter from the audience.
Dole said he had talked with Trump. “I told him to tone down his rhetoric,” Dole said. He later added, ruefully: “It’s gotten all out of whack.”
Dole did say he thought Trump would be able to work with Congress if he’s elected.
The joint appearance was a rarity. Dole and Kassebaum served together in the Senate for 18 years, beginning in 1978. Both left the Senate in 1996 — she retired from politics at the end of her third term, and he wanted to devote his full-time efforts to his presidential campaign.
Kassebaum now lives in Kansas. Dole lives in Washington but returns to the state on occasion.
Dole referred to his long friendships and campaigns in Kansas, and his legendary status in the state’s political affairs. He said me might think about running again. “When you get out of politics, your numbers go up,” he said, to laughter.
But the spotlight was clearly on Kassebaum, who received the 2016 Dole Leadership prize from the Institute. She received a standing ovation.
Both senators recalled their days as students at the University of Kansas. Kassebaum urged young adults to get involved in public service.
Dole agreed. “I hope that we did things that were helpful to people,” he said.
“Nancy and I love Kansas.”