Kansans watching President Donald Trump’s inauguration saw a familiar face on the dais: former senator and state political legend Bob Dole.
Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, greeted Trump with smiles that day. Alone among one-time GOP presidential nominees, Dole was a vocal Trump supporter for much of the fall campaign. Former Dole aides were sprinkled through Trump’s campaign organization, too.
It isn’t clear if Trump was very impressed. Video shows the president stopping only briefly to shake hands with Dole, who was sitting in a wheelchair. President Barack Obama greeted Dole much more warmly. Twitter erupted.
Nevertheless, Dole’s presence was remarkable. Against all odds, at the age of 93, the favorite son of Russell, Kan., remains a vital participant in our national government.
He served as an unofficial adviser to the Trump transition team. Dole helped introduce then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, at his recent confirmation hearing. In December, Dole joined former President George H.W. Bush for a remembrance of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Dole returns frequently to Kansas, often stopping at the underappreciated Dole Institute for Politics in Lawrence to offer wisdom and wit. Kansas Republicans still seek his endorsement and advice.
The former senator’s work can be controversial. Last year he helped arrange a phone call between Trump and the leadership in Taiwan. The call infuriated the Chinese mainland — and prompted reporters to dig into the serious cash Dole earns as a lobbyist. Dole has influence to sell, and he sells it.
But he also serves as a reminder of a time when Washington worked.
We should not over-romanticize Bob Dole. He was fiercely partisan in his time in office: He hammered Democrats at every opportunity. He could be sharp, brusque, disagreeable.
But he also believed the national government could do things for people. He worked to save Social Security, helped invent food stamps, protected farm interests. He believed the government should pay its bills. He pushed through legislation establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and in 1983, he endorsed the Beach Boys. Not bad.
Donald Trump could learn some lessons from Bob Dole. The president might want to ask him to the White House for a longer chat. Dole knows where it is.