NEW YORK – Karl Rove’s claims that he worked in the 1980 Ronald Reagan election campaign – and subsequently played a role in the Reagan White House – are under attack by critics today who say they’re inaccurate.
“I was the director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1980 and was appointed to the White House Fellows selection panel,” Karl Rove claimed in an appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News yesterday. “I didn’t meet him [Reagan], he didn’t meet me. But he [Mark Levin] wanted to know where the heck I was then. That’s where I was.”
Rove’s comments were aimed at radio host Mark Levin, who said he did not remember Rove from the Reagan campaign, announcing on air, “As someone who was active in the Reagan campaign in ’76 and ’80, and served in his administration for eight years, I don’t remember Karl Rove.”
But the argument has been moved to a higher level now.
Fact-checkers have confirmed they have been unable to find any documentation Rove ever was in any Ronald Reagan election campaign or in the Reagan administration.
It’s just the latest red flag for members of the conservative wing of the GOP, who for some time have been suspicious of Rove’s organization, the Conservative Victory Project. It was created under the auspices of Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC.
Their worry has been that Rove’s intent with the outreach is to solicit donations from top-dollar Republican Party contributors by suggesting he is promoting successful conservative candidates in primaries. They fear he actually wants to promote moderate Republican candidates acceptable to the GOP establishment.
In recent days, Rove explained he created the Conservative Victory Project to make sure the Republican Party runs in primary elections conservative candidates “who have a chance to win.”
In the 2012 general election, Rove attacked Richard Mourdoch, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Indiana, who compromised his chances for victory after claiming in an interview that pregnancies from rape may be something God intended to happen.
Rove, at a breakfast of campaign big-dollar donors on the final day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, also joked: “We should sink Todd Akin. If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”
Akin, a Missouri Senate candidate, contributed a faux pas to the campaign with a comment about “legitimate” rape.
See Rove’s comments:
Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly was outraged at the time.
She insisted it was not enough for Rove to telephone Akin to apologize, saying: "At the very least Rove should make a public apology. But even that can't wipe out his gross political mistake. Rove has been calling on Todd Akin to resign, but the one who should resign because he made an embarrassing, malicious and downright stupid remark is Karl Rove."
Accused of misrepresentation
Following Rove's appearance on O'Reilly's show, detailed fact-checking has allowed various conservatives to accuse Rove of misrepresenting his background, by implying that he worked in Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign organization when the truth is that in 1980 Rove worked as executive director in a office organized under the Texas state Republican Party to support in Texas Republican candidates on the Texas ballot.
Today, publicist Craig Shirley, author of the 2009 book "Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America," a history of Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, sent out a letter to thousands of conservative leaders and activists around the country charging Rove's claims to have worked for Ronald Reagan were false.
"Last night on 'The O’Reilly Factor,' Karl Rove stated that he was the director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Since then, I've received several inquiries on this matter," Shirley wrote.
"In the course of my research for 'Rendezvous with Destiny' about the 1980 campaign, at no time did I come across Mr. Rove's name in association with the Reagan campaign. Indeed, according to sources, he was with the George H. W. Bush campaign until he was fired for leaking to the media."
Shirley's letter made the following additional claims:
- In 1976, as chairman of the College Republicans, Rove supported Gerald Ford over Gov. Reagan, as did all members of the Republican National Committee at that time.
- Ernie Angelo ran the 1980 Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan; Rick Shelby was field director; and in 1980, Gary Hoitsma ran the media for Reagan in Texas.
- Rove's own bio on his website says he was on Gov. Clements staff in 1980; Clements was not on board with Reagan until after Republican National Convention held that year in Detroit.
Rove defends himself
In response to a WND email requesting comment, Kristin Davison, chief of staff at Rove & Company, suggested WND consult Rove's 2010 book "Courage and Consequence," in which Rove explained he was executive director of the Texas Victory Committee for Reagan-Bush – an organization that turns out to have been a Texas state organization, not a part of the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign.
Conservative critics have reacted to Rove's response negatively, suggesting that Rove intentionally misrepresented the facts to imply he was more closely associated with Reagan in 1980 than he truly was.
"Karl Rove said on O'Reilly last evening that he was the director of the Reagan campaign in Texas in the fall of 1980. He was not according to my research and my sources including the Reagan Library, which houses all the 1980 campaign documents," Shirley told WND in an email.
On Pages 54-55 of "Courage and Consequence," Rove recounts that in the summer of 1980, Texas Gov. Clements asked Rove to be the executive directors of a Victory Committee organized by the Texas state Republican Party, not by the Reagan presidential campaign organization or by the Republican National Committee.
"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," Rove wrote on Page 54. "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."
Under the Victory Committee, Rove claims he assembled "a robust, statewide, grassroots organization in every county."
Rove also noted, on Page 54, the Reagan campaign sent Texas Republican national committeeman Ernie Angelo, former mayor of Midland, Texas, to "look over our shoulders" in the Victory Committee.
"Angelo provided an invaluable link to the Reagan grassroots people, smoothing hurt feelings and helping glue all Republican volunteers into one massive effort," Rove wrote.
After Reagan was elected, Clements named Rove his deputy chief of staff.
Then, in October 1981, the direct mail firm Rove and Company started business on Brazos Street in Austin, "with a staff of three and a bank of computerized printers," Rove recounted on Page 56.
WND has confirmed the Victory Committee of which Rove was the executive director had no formal connection to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential election campaign.
WND has not been able to confirm that Rove worked on the White House Fellows selection committee under President Ronald Reagan, as he claimed.
The American Spectator further reported Karl Rove is not listed in "The Reagan Alumni," a directory that lists everyone who played a role in the Reagan campaigns or Reagan administration.
"Mr. Rove is nowhere to be found in directories for June of 1992, October of 1998, February of 2000 and February of 2001," wrote Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan aide and a current contributing editor to the American Spectator.
"Directories that contain thousands of names of those who worked for Reagan, all alphabetically listed along with positions held in a Reagan campaign or the Reagan administration or both. Mr. Shirley himself is listed in these directories, as is Rove critic Mark Levin. As am I."
Seasoned candidates or moderates??
The controversy began Feb. 2 when Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times reported that Rove's Super PAC, the American Crossroads Project, plans to finance a new organization aimed at recruiting "seasoned candidates" and protecting Senate incumbents from "challenge by far-right conservatives and tea party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's efforts to win control of the Senate."
Zeleny further reported Rove's new organization, to be called the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations "that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates" over the past two decades.
The controversy intensified when Jonathan Collegio, a colleague of Rove at American Crossroads, followed Brent Bozell on the WMAL-FM "Mornings on the Mall" radio show the next day and added fuel to the fire.
"Bozell is a hater and he has a long sordid history hating Karl Rove," Collegio said on air. "He has weird personal axes to grind."
Collegio's on-air comments caused Shirley to write his first letter earlier this week to defend Bozell's bona fides in the conservative movement.
Shirley, in his letter calling for Collegio to resign from American Crossroads, explained that Bozell is a "legacy" in he conservative movement, noting that Bozell's father wrote "Conscience of a Conservative" for Barry Goldwater, that William F. Buckley was Bozell's uncle, and that Ronald Reagan often saluted the Bozell family for contributions to the cause of American conservatism.