Congressman Bob Dold formerly represented the Tenth District of Illinois as a Republican in Congress. A small business owner and father of three, Dold served two nonconsecutive terms for the most Democratic district in the country held by a Republican, and throughout his time in Congress, was widely regarded as one of its most independent and bipartisan members. As a spring fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, Dold met with the Gate’s Nick Macius to revisit his time on Capitol Hill.
It was December 2015, the Republican presidential primaries were fast approaching, and Donald Trump gripped the American public’s attention. He was joyriding into the primaries with reckless abandon, and his candidacy was stealing the GOP’s show. With an eerily uncertain mood felt throughout politics, many Republicans in Washington had to reckon with what for them seemed an unwinnable situation: an unruly yet ascendant candidate of their own party. Congressman Bob Dold, however, stood apart from his Republican peers.
That month, Dold became one of the first Republicans to publicly reject the figure who is today the leader of the free world. “I felt it was the right thing to do,” he affirmed. Dold’s decision to unambiguously denounce Trump was strongly motivated by a particular incident, one that left him with a searing aversion for Trump. While campaigning earlier that summer, Trump had directed callous remarks toward Senator John McCain, saying that McCain “[is] a war hero because he was captured … I like people that weren’t captured.” Dold found these words were especially egregious—he had an uncle who was also held captive during the war. Championing the integrity of all our nation’s veterans is simply too important to him. “It was not politically calculated or motivated,” he said of his decision to disavow Trump. “It was just me saying, this is something unacceptable.”
In fact, there is little at all about the former congressman that seems calculated or contrived. Dold proudly regards himself as a true independent, a politician powered by fair-minded convictions, despite powerful Washington currents that pull congressmen to polar ends. In an era plagued by partisan bashing and a slow-moving legislature, Dold is at once refreshing and compelling.
Dold stood apart from many of his congressional peers, and yet he fervently wanted to hold them together. “I’m absolutely positive there is more that unites us than divides us,” he explained, and his extensive legislative history backs this ethos. During his two terms, Dold often showed a penchant for compromise, no matter how unfashionable it was on Capitol Hill. Dold scored highly on independent measures of bipartisanship and leadership, fulfilling the character he had campaigned on.
Dold was mostly uninterested in party loyalty, at least relative to his peers, and he refused to buy into arguments for toeing the Republican line. “For the key issues that I wanted to move forward on, I felt we needed to have Democrats on board with us if we were going to truly impact what was going on,” he explained. Dold seemed to fit well as the ideal representative of the Tenth District, the moderate-leaning Illinois constituency he served.
Washington, though, still sobered him into a bleak sense of reality. The Republican congressman was defeated in his 2016 re-election bid by Democrat Brad Schneider, despite his bipartisan efforts and a formidably run campaign. Schneider was an all-too-familiar challenger to Dold. “If it’s election season, it must be time for Bob and Brad,” read the Chicago Tribune’s editorial endorsement page. It was the third consecutive contest between the two; neither candidate has won consecutive races.
To Dold, their most recent race seemed a mismatch, as his down-ballot Republican position felt the drag of Trump’s candidacy. In a district as moderate as the Tenth, Trump’s name listed at the top of the ticket kept away many traditional Republican voters, Dold believes, and he would have liked the chance to take on his opponent without outside interference. Such a chance, he quipped, “I would take every day of the week and twice on Sunday.” More than anything, Dold feels he deserves a fair fight, having taken a clear and consistent stance on Trump—a move that many voters ostensibly wanted from Republican politicians.
Though Dold’s account of his loss may be justified, and his reasons convincing, he seemed to avoid mentioning his most compelling claim to the Tenth District. What won him hard-earned support in Illinois for years, from Chicago editorial boards to suburban voters, is Bob Dold himself. There are few who have served their districts as diligently as he did his; there are few in Washington with his courage of convictions, no matter the party.
As Dold joins the Institute of Politics this spring, to him, there seems plenty of unfinished business in Washington. Though the path back to Congress would likely be trying, he has been down that road before, and does not flinch at such a challenge. Bob Dold is boldly independent and genuinely for the people, truths that no electoral defeat could ever diminish.