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A political rivalry for the ages. And then that final salute.

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By Steve Kornacki

The scene inside the Capitol this week was arresting: 95-year-old Bob Dole, confined for years to a wheelchair, rising with assistance to offer one final standing salute to George H.W. Bush.

The history behind it made it even more poignant. Born only 11 months apart, but into dramatically different circumstances, the two men forged one of the preeminent rivalries of modern American politics, fueled by shared ambition and shaped by fateful twists and bitter confrontations, with Bush ultimately capturing the prize that always eluded Dole.

They both came to Washington around the same time, but from very different places.

A son of Dust Bowl Kansas whose family was nearly broken by the Depression, Dole barely escaped death from an exploding artillery shell in World War II, then spent the next three years rehabilitating in an Army hospital. He emerged without the use of his right arm and with shrapnel still in his body, returned to western Kansas and entered politics. In 1960, he won a House seat. Eight years later, he moved up to the Senate. It made him a rising star in Republican politics.

Bush, by contrast, was born into an aristocratic Yankee family and his father, Prescott, was a U.S. senator. Like Dole, Bush defied death in World War II, shot down over the Pacific Ocean but avoiding capture by the Japanese, then set out to make his own name in Texas, first in the oil business and eventually in politics. He lost a Senate race in 1964, but won a House seat two years later. It made him the first Republican ever to represent Houston in Congress — and, just like Dole, a rising Republican star.

Their collision was almost inevitable, and it came in 1972, just weeks after Richard Nixon’s landslide reelection. Dole had been serving as the chairman of the Republican National Committee, an invaluable platform for a would-be national candidate, but his outspokenness had irked the White House.

Nixon wanted to make a change, and he had someone in mind: Bush, who at the White House’s insistence had given up his House seat for another Senate bid in 1970. When he fell short in that race, Bush was named U.N. ambassador by Nixon, and now Nixon wanted him to head the RNC. The switch was announced — and universally portrayed as a blow to Dole and a major boost for Bush.

President George H.W. Bush winks as he ends a session on Oct. 25, 1990, in the White House Rose Garden at Washington, with Republican members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.Charles Tasnadi / AP file

Journalist Martin Schram, detailing the ways the outgoing chairman had alienated himself from the White House, concluded: “There is a lesson for the 48-year-old George Bush in the case of the 49-year-old Bob Dole.”

Nixon’s demise complicated each man’s path. Public disgust over Watergate almost cost Dole his seat when he ran for reelection in 1974 and eked out a one-point victory. Bush, meanwhile, hoped to win an appointment as the new vice president under Gerald Ford, Nixon’ successor, but Ford passed him over in favor of Nelson Rockefeller and Bush settled for the lower-wattage role of ambassador to China.

At the Republican convention in 1976, though, Ford needed a new No. 2. He was running for a full term and Rockefeller was too liberal for the conservative wing of the GOP. Bush was an obvious choice, but there was a problem. At the end of 1975, Ford had nominated him to head the CIA, and the Senate Armed Services Committee had threatened to hold up his confirmation unless Bush was ruled out as a potential V.P. pick. It was, Ford said, an “unfortunate and tragic” situation, but he complied and Bush was confirmed.

For Dole, it was a stroke of fortune as Ford instead turned to him as a running-mate. All at once, Dole regained the stature he’d lost a few years earlier. As the vice presidential nominee, he received a national security briefing just after the convention. It was administered by Bush, the CIA director, who could only wonder if he’d been lapped for good by his rival.

When the Ford-Dole ticket fell inches short in the 1976 election, Dole went to work parlaying his new prominence into a national campaign of his own, for president. Bush, out of a job with Ford’s defeat, decided to run in 1980, too. They were both underdogs against the frontrunner, Ronald Reagan, but it was Bush, not Dole, who found traction and posted a stunning upset win in the Iowa caucuses.

The scene was set for a Reagan-Bush showdown in New Hampshire, but Dole remained in the race. When the two leading candidates scheduled a debate in Nashua, Dole and the other also-rans showed up and walked on stage as it started. Bush didn’t want them there but Reagan did, and he began arguing for their inclusion. The moderator interrupted him and demanded Reagan’s microphone be cut. “I am paying for his microphone, Mr. Green!” Reagan roared.

It brought the crowd to its feet as Bush just sat there, a silent witness to the destruction of his own campaign. According to Richard Ben Cramer’s “What it Takes,” Dole leaned in to Bush as he exited the stage and said, “There’ll be another day, George.” Reagan won New Hampshire, and the nomination, with ease.

Bush caught the big break in ’80. His surprising strength in the primaries convinced Reagan to add him to his ticket, and unlike the Ford-Dole ticket, Reagan-Bush proved a big winner that fall, and again in 1984. Two terms as Reagan’s loyal vice president made Bush a natural candidate for the top job in 1988.

But Dole still wanted it too, and he’d made moves of his own in the Reagan years, ascending to the top Republican leadership post in the Senate. He set out to challenge Bush for the nomination and this time crushed him Iowa, where Bush fared so dismally that he even finished behind televangelist Pat Robertson.

The race moved to New Hampshire and Dole, improbably, had his rival on the ropes. Bush responded with a last-minute barrage of negative ads that accused Dole of being soft on taxes, and gutted out a pivotal victory.

Late that night, after the race had been called, the two men appeared together on NBC. Bush was finishing an interview on set with Tom Brokaw, who then introduced Dole from a remote location. Brokaw asked Bush if he had anything to say to Dole. “No,” he said. “Just wish him well and meet him in the South.” Then Brokaw asked Dole if he had any message for Bush. “Yeah,” he replied, “stop lying about my record.” (Bush smiled on air, but according to Jon Meacham’s biography of him, he referred in his diary to Dole as “a no good son-of-a-bitch.”)

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Trump announces $16 billion in aid to farmers as trade war continues

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By Lauren Egan and Phil McCausland

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a $16 billion aid package for American farmers aimed at softening the financial blow created by the ongoing trade war with China.

“Our farmers will be greatly helped,” Trump said during a press event in Roosevelt Room at the White House. “The 16 billion [dollar] funds will help keep our cherished farms thriving.”

Thursday’s announcement comes as tensions continue to escalate between the U.S. and China and negotiations have largely stalled.

Earlier this month, talks between the two countries ended without a deal as Trump imposed another round of tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods. And both Trump and President Xi Jinping of China have signaled that they are prepared for a long fight, if necessary.

Thursday’s aid package is the second bailout the Trump administration has issued in response to decreased agriculture trade with China. Last November, Trump announced $12 billion in aid to “make it up” to farmers, as he described it.

“During that time of negotiation, if everyone remembers, we had a period where China would target our farms,” Trump said Thursday. “Now is the time to insist on fair and reciprocal trade for our workers and our farmers.”

Trump added that he was “hopeful” that trade talks could begin again with China, but if that didn’t happen, “that’s fine.”

“These tariffs are paid for largely by China,” Trump continued, repeating claims that the tariffs were being paid out by China, not American importers. However, a study published Thursday by the International Monetary Fund found that the tariff revenue on Chinese goods “has been borne almost entirely” by U.S. importers.

Communities that supported Trump in the 2016 election have been some of the hardest hit by the ongoing trade war, and some say there is reason for Republicans to be concerned as the window to reach a deal with China before the 2020 election continues to narrow.

“I think President Trump is counting on his tariff bailout payments to buy support for him among farmers, but this is a bigger issue,” Richard Oswald, 69, of Langdon, Missouri, a fifth generation farmer, said in a phone interview with NBC News. “This is going to bite a lot of Republicans when it’s all set and done. I don’t think he understands the stress people are under and it shows a lack of compassion.”

The timing of the administration’s decision to roll out another bailout, as farmers are still deciding what crops to plant this season, has come under criticism from some lawmakers, especially since the aid comes with some strings.

“We want farmers to make decisions on how many acres of corn and soybeans to plant based on the market and not something the government’s doing,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters on Wednesday.

Jonathan Coppess, the former Farm Service Agency administrator and the director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program at the University of Illinois, also expressed concerns about the aid package.

“Frankly the most immediate issues they need to clear up is the requirement that you need to plant a crop to get payment. The risk of impacting planting decisions is already in place. They’re telling them explicitly that they have to plant something,” Coppess said in an interview with NBC News, cautioning the potential for a further depressed market.

In addition to the $16 billion aid funds, Trump also announced plans to roll back some regulations on farming in the coming days, although he did not provide specifics. “We’re saving our farmers and ranchers from ridiculous regulations,” Trump said Thursday.

Trump is expected to meet with Xi at the G20 summit in June.

Lauren Egan reported from Washington, and Phil McCausland reported from New York.

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