Karl Rove Did Not Run 1980 Reagan Campaign in Texas, But He Was Involved

By Michael W. Chapman | February 9, 2013 | 11:25 AM EST

Republican political consultant Karl Rove, a former deputy chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration. (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – Republican political consultant Karl Rove went on The O’Reilly Factor on Thursday and said--in response to conservative criticism of his political action committee--that he had been the director of the 1980 Ronald Reagan campaign in Texas, a point questioned by veteran Texas GOP campaign leaders and which seems to be only partly true for the period after Reagan secured the Republican presidential nomination that year.

Reagan won the nomination at the GOP convention in Detroit in July 1980, beating out George H. W. Bush, the candidate Rove had supported. In late August/early September of that year, Rove was hired as executive director of the Texas Victory Committee, a large phone bank, get-out-the-vote effort, which was overseen by Ernest Angelo, the campaign manager for Ronald Reagan in Texas.

“I was the director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1980, and was appointed by President Reagan to sit on the White House Fellows Selection Panel,” said Rove on the Feb. 7 edition of The O’Reilly Factor.

However, in a telephone interview, CNSNews.com asked Gary Hoitsma, the communications/media director for the 1980 Reagan campaign in Texas, which was headquartered in a renovated funeral home in Austin, whether Rove’s statement that he was the “director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan” was true or not.

Tom Pauken, former Texas Republican State chairman who served on President Reagan's White House staff. (AP)

Hoitsma said, That was not my recollection. I was there at the campaign headquarters in 1980 and the campaign was directed by Ernie Angelo and Rick Shelby was the basic national field director who came down and ran the day-to-day campaign.”

“I wouldn’t doubt that Karl had some, maybe, more of a figure-head role or something like that,” said Hoitsma. “But I don’t remember him being involved at the campaign headquarters in any day to day efforts that we were involved in.

Tom Pauken, who ran for Congress in 1978 and 1980 in Texas's 5th district and served on the Reagan presidential transition team in 1980, said in a statement, "Karl Rove campaigned in 1980 against Ronald Reagan and for George Herbert Walker Bush in the Republican presidential primary in Texas. In the general election, I never heard at the time that Karl was running the Reagan campaign in our state.  Karl was working for Gov. Clements, but the Reagan leaders in Texas were Ray Barnhart and Ernie Angelo. “

“I knew most of the Reagan leaders around the state, and Karl was not part of that group and was viewed by the Reaganites as being part of the anti-Reagan faction in our state,” said Pauken.

After his work on the presidential transition in 1980, Pauken served on the White House staff for Reagan's first term. Pauken was chairman of the Republican Party of Texas from 1994 to 1997.

“During the Reagan administration, I served on various White House Fellows Selection Panels during that period,” said Pauken.  “Arlen Specter's wife served on one of the panels with me.  Being on a selection panel for that program is no evidence whatsoever that one was a Reagan Republican at the time."

Ernest Angelo, the campaign manager of the Ronald Reagan campaign in Texas in 1980.

Ray Barnhart, who headed the 1976 Texas Reagan campaign and was involved in the 1980 Texas campaign, told CNSNews.com, “I don’t recall that Karl was there in a leadership role quite frankly.”

“I didn’t really remember that,” he said. Barnhart was director of the Federal Highway Commission under Reagan from 1981 to 1987.

Ernest Angelo, who was the 1980 campaign manager for Reagan in Texas, told CNSNews.com that the way things worked was that then-Texas Governor Bill Clements was the chairman of the campaign and that after the nomination, numerous people were hired and Karl Rove was one of those brought in.

This happened in late August, early September 1980, said Angelo.

“He worked for me and was involved in the campaign,” said Angelo.

Angelo told CNSNews.com that fellow Reagan campaign leader Richard D. Shelby recalled that Rove had been hired as director of the Texas Victory Committee. This was a phone-bank operation spread across Texas that reportedly was highly successful in raising money and getting out the vote for Reagan in the fall of 1980.

President Ronald Reagan. (AP)

In his 2010 book, Courage and Consequence, Karl Rove writes, “By the summer of 1980, politics had swept me up again. That meant for me a role in the campaign to carry Texas for Ronald Reagan and his running mate, my former boss, George H. W. Bush. Clements was determined to put Texas in Reagan’s column in 1980. State parties could organize committees to spend money on volunteer-intensive activities in support of federal candidates, as long as the money was raised under federal campaign limits. A victory committee could run phone banks, conduct registration drives, send mailings, hold rallies, send out surrogates, and do everything a presidential campaign could do, short of running television ads.

“The governor called me into his office and brusquely told me to move my posterior over to the Victory Committee. He was to be its chairman and I was to be its executive director. The outcome of the presidential election could turn on the results in Texas--and so, he made clear, could my future.

“The Reagan high command didn’t fully trust Clements, because the governor was close to Ford, his 1976 primary opponent, and had played an important role at the 1980 Detroit convention in reassuring Reagan to tap Ford as his running mate. So they sent two people to look over our shoulders. One was Texas Republican national committeeman Ernie Angelo, former mayor of Midland. The other was the campaign’s southwestern political director, Rick Shelby. Both were parked in Austin for the rest of the campaign, and we hit it off.”

In addition, The Complete Marquis Who’s Who Biographies states that Rove was director of the Texas Victory Committee in Austin, Texas, in 1980. It does not state that he was director of the Reagan campaign in Texas.

Rove’s statement on The O’Reilly Factor is not completely accurate. He was not “the director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1980.” Angelo was the campaign manager, Shelby was the field director, and Hoitsma was the media/press official. Rove, according to the available data, was the director of an integral entity to the campaign, the Texas Victory Committee.

Angelo said that, back then, these different operations were generally viewed as all working for the Reagan campaign.

CNSNews.com contacted Karl Rove’s office for comment on this story. His office provided excerpts from Rove’s book, Courage and Consquence, in response. Rove explains some of his actions with the Texas Victory Committee on pages 54 and 55 of that book.

In his book, Rove writes enthusiastically about George H. W. Bush, noting that he first went to work for him in October 1973 as the special assistant to Tom Lias, who was then chief of staff to Bush at the Republican National Committee.

Rove writes that in 1977, when he was in Texas and contemplating a brokerage job, Bush met with him and offered him a position running a political action committee because Bush was thinking about running for president. The PAC was called the Fund for Limited Government and Rove worked under James Baker, according to Courage and Consequence.

“Working with Bush at that early stage of his candidacy, I saw how important it was that a candidate place people who care about him at the core of his effort," writes Rove.  "Loyalty matters most at the beginning because candidates can always hire seasoned professionals later, many of whom wait to join a campaign when the race has taken shape.”

Rove later went to work for William Clements, helping in his gubernatorial run and then in 1980-81 as Gov. Clements' deputy chief of staff.


Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman