- Democratic political consultant and strategist
- Political commentator and television personality
- Served as counselor to President Bill Clinton
- Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law
Born on May 12, 1961 in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Paul Begala is a Democratic Party adviser and strategist, a political commentator, and a television personality. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and a JD at the University of Texas School of Law, where he was later hired as a professor.
In the late 1980s Begala and Democratic strategist James Carville co-founded the political consulting firm of Carville & Begala, which helped bring about the 1988 reelection of Senator Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey; the 1990 gubernatorial victories of Robert Casey in Pennsylvania and Zell Miller in Georgia; the 1991 Senate victory of Harris Wofford in Pennsylvania; and the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections of Bill Clinton. In 1996, Begala personally helped prepare Clinton for his televised debates.
After the 1992 election, Begala went to work at the Democratic National Committee and was a regular fixture in the Clinton White House as a counselor to the President during his first term. But Begala was subsequently ostracized from Clinton’s inner circle after he supplied incriminating information about the President to author Bob Woodward for the latter’s 1994 book, The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House – an unflattering portrayal of Clinton’s first two years in office.
In 1995 Begala returned to Austin and joined the political consulting firm Public Strategies. In the summer of 1997 he was invited back to the White House to serve, again, as counselor to the President. During the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal of 1998, Begala often handled the role of public spokesman for Clinton. At the time, Begala expressed his firm belief that the President was being truthful in maintaining that he had not had sexual relations with the young intern. “I pride myself on being a true believer,” said Begala. “… I am not a hired gun. I have an extraordinary [sic] high confidence level in him [Clinton].”
After his second tour of duty at the White House was over, Begala became a research professor of Government and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He also helped John F. Kennedy, Jr. launch George magazine, where Begala worked as a contributing editor and columnist.
From 1999-2000 Begala co-hosted the MSNBC program Equal Time with Oliver North. In 2002, Begala and James Carville assumed their positions as representatives on the Left for the long-running CNN debate program Crossfire, which featured topical discussions in which the pair were pitted against conservatives Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. Crossfire was eventually cancelled in 2005 due to low ratings. After that, Begala began appearing) on CNN’s Inside Politics and, later, on that show’s successor, The Situation Room.
In an article he wrote during the infamous Florida recount controversy vis-a-vis the 2000 presidential election, Begala suggested that a disproportionately large number of Republicans and conservatives were bigots who were highly prone to violence and cruelty. Specifically, he pointed to the solidly red (Republican) counties and states on the electoral map and said: “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 January 2008, a report surfaced that Begala was being recruited to serve as a counselor and strategist for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign. Shortly after the story broke, however, Begala sent out an e-mail denying the claim. “I have contributed to her campaign,” said Begala, “and am convinced she would be a great President. But I am not joining the campaign in any form or fashion.”
Over the course of his professional career, Begala has authored or co-authored several political books. In one of those, titled Is Our Children Learning? (2000), he wrote that George W. Bush was “a few beans shy of a full burrito intellectually,” and that Bush did not “have what it takes to be president.”
Between 1995 and 2016, Begala donated some $43,900 strictly to Democratic candidates and pro-Democrat organizations. Among the beneficiaries of these contributions were such notables as Rahm Emanuel, Al Franken, and Hillary Clinton.
Begala currently teaches at the University of Georgia School of Law as a Sanders Political Leadership Scholar.