- Former co-host of the CNN political debate program Crossfire.
- Democratic political consultant
Paul Begala is a Democratic Party advisor and strategist, a political commentator, and a television personality. Until 2005 he co-hosted, along with James Carville, the CNN political debate program Crossfire. Previously, Begala co-hosted the MSNBC show Equal Time with Oliver North. Most famously, Begala served as an advisor to former President Bill Clinton.
Born May 12, 1961 in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Begala earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas School of Law (UT Law), respectively. He eventually would become a professor at UT Law.
In 1992 the Carville & Begala consulting firm helped elect Bill Clinton to the U.S. presidency. Prior to 1992, Begala and Carville had worked together successfully on the 1986 gubernatorial victory of Robert Casey in Pennsylvania, the 1988 reelection of Senator Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey, the 1990 gubernatorial victory of Zell Miller in Georgia, and the 1991 Senate victory of Harris Wofford in Pennsylvania.
Begala was a regular fixture in the Clinton White House during the President's first term in office. But he was subsequently ostracized from Clinton's inner circles after he supplied incriminating information about the President to author Bob Woodward for the latter's book, The Agenda.
During the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal of 1998, the Clinton administration called Begala back to duty as a counselor to, and public spokesman for, the President. At the time, Begala expressed his firm belief that Clinton was being truthful in maintaining that he had not had sexual relations with Lewinsky. "He has a difficult time being duplicitous," Begala's friend Carville commented. "I think he believes the President. I think if he didn't believe the President, he couldn't do this [work for Clinton]." Begala himself said, "I pride myself on being a true believer…. I am not a hired gun. I have an extraordinary high confidence level in him [Clinton]."
After leaving the White House, Begala became a research professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University. He also helped John F. Kennedy, Jr. launch George magazine, where he worked as a contributing editor and columnist.
Begala has authored and co-authored several political books, including Is Our Children Learning?: The Case Against George W. Bush (2000); It's Still the Economy Stupid (2002); Buck Up, Suck Up ... and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room (2002); and Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (2006). In his book Is Our Children Learning?, Begala writes: "W [George W. Bush], you're going to hate me when someone reads this to you. (I know you're not big on books yourself.) But you don't have what it takes to be president. Even your most loyal defenders say you're a few beans shy of a full burrito intellectually. And your whole career has been a case study in the art of failing upward."
In an article he penned during the 2000 presidential balloting's Florida recount, Begala suggested that a disproportionate number of Republicans and conservatives were bigots prone to violence and cruelty:
"Yes ... tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican. But if you look closely at that [electoral] map [showing counties that voted Republican in red] you see a more complex picture. You see the state where [African American] James Byrd was lynch-dragged behind a pickup truck until his body came apart—it's red. You see the state where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay—it's red. You see the state where right-wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees—it's red. The state where an army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skin-heads murdered two African Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry: they're all red too."
In the 1990s Begala, along with Oliver North, headed the MSNBC news debate program Equal Time. In 2002, Begala and Carville assumed their positions as representatives on the Left for the long-running CNN debate program Crossfire. The show pitted Begala and Carville against conservatives Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson, and regularly featured topical discussions and special guests. Crossfire eventually was cancelled in 2005 due to low ratings.
In January 2008, a report surfaced that Begala was being recruited to serve as a counselor and strategist for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid. Shortly after the news broke, Begala sent out an e-mail denying the claim. "I am not coming in as a volunteer, or as an adviser or as a strategist or anything else," he said. "I have contributed to her campaign, and am convinced she would be a great President. But I am not joining the campaign in any form or fashion."
Between 1995 and 2008, Begala gave some $17,610 strictly to Democratic candidates running for political offices around the United States, including $2,300 to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2007. He also contributed $1,000 to Al Franken's 2008 bid for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
Begala is a pro-life Catholic, a fact that places him (on that position) at odds with the Democratic Party generally. Nonetheless, he remains a leading Democrat strategist. Moreover, he currently teaches at the University of Georgia School of Law as a Sanders Political Leadership Scholar.