Bob Beckel: He Managed Mondale’s Losing Presidential Campaign, Then Became a Political Commentator

From a Washington Post obit by Matt Schudel headlined “Bob Beckel, campaign manager and political commentator, dies at 73”:

Bob Beckel, who managed the 1984 presidential campaign of Democrat Walter Mondale and later became a fixture on television as a political analyst, including as a co-host of the Fox News panel show “The Five,” died in Silver Spring, Md.

Mr. Beckel’s career in politics began in 1968 during Robert F. Kennedy’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sixteen years later, as Mondale’s campaign manager, he helped the former vice president secure the party’s nomination after overcoming an early loss to Sen. Gary Hart in the New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Beckel was widely credited with borrowing a line from a then-popular Wendy’s hamburger commercial — “Where’s the beef?” — which Mondale used to criticize Hart during a debate. Hart’s campaign soon imploded, and Mondale went on to face incumbent Ronald Reagan in the general election. In one of the most lopsided presidential elections in history, Mondale won only D.C. and his home state of Minnesota….

He established a consulting firm and advised major organizations on media strategies. He also began a second career as a political commentator, and by the early 1990s, Mr. Beckel was often seen on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fox’s “Off the Record” and CNN’s “Crossfire.” He also had a long-running point-counterpoint column in USA Today with conservative writer Cal Thomas.

“Only in America,” Mr. Beckel said in 1988, “can a guy manage a campaign that loses 49 states in one election season and then be on television analyzing the next one.”

Often wearing bright-colored suspenders, the gravel-voiced Mr. Beckel was an almost daily presence on Fox programs, as one of the few left-leaning commentators on the conservative cable network.

In 2011, he was named a co-host of “The Five,” a roundtable discussion program that included, at different times, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters. He was often the lone liberal voice on the panel….

Early in his tenure on “The Five,” Mr. Beckel mentioned he was a recovering addict who had struggled with alcohol and cocaine. In 2015, he took a leave from the show for back surgery, then sought treatment for dependence on painkillers. During his absence, he was fired by Fox.

“We tried to work with Bob for months, but we couldn’t hold ‘The Five’ hostage to one man’s personal issues,” Bill Shine, who was executive vice president of programming, said at the time.

In January 2017, Mr. Beckel was reinstated as a co-host of “The Five,” only to be dismissed four months later for allegedly making a racially insensitive remark to a Black technology worker at Fox News.

Mr. Beckel told a St. Louis radio talk show in 2019 that the incident “didn’t happen” and that his second firing from Fox had been “completely set up by someone.”

“This was not about a racist comment,” he said. “This was because I was the loudest voice on that network against Donald Trump.”

Robert Gilliland Beckel was born in New York City and grew up in Lyme, Conn. His father was a high school and college teacher and civil rights advocate. His mother had been a model. Both parents were alcoholics, Mr. Beckel wrote in a 2015 memoir, “I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV, and Addiction.”

Mr. Beckel played football at Wagner College, graduating in 1970. He served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines in 1971 and 1972, then became active in Democratic political campaigns. He joined the State Department in 1977 and, as a liaison with Congress, participated in President Jimmy Carter’s effort to win passage of the Panama Canal Treaty. He was in charge of Carter’s 1980 Texas reelection operation against Reagan.

In 2000, Mr. Beckel publicly called on electors in Florida to overturn George W. Bush’s slim victory in the state over Democratic candidate Al Gore. Gore rejected such a move, and Mr. Beckel’s business partners split with him over the plan, leading to the breakup of his consulting firm.

The night before Bush was inaugurated in 2001, Mr. Beckel later wrote in his memoir, he was drinking heavily at a seedy bar in Maryland. After he made a pass at a married woman, her jealous husband appeared with a handgun, pointed it at Mr. Beckel’s face and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired.

Afterward, Mr. Beckel was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, sought treatment for addiction and said he became a born-again Christian.

He later expressed remorse for his role in promoting political division in the country and in 2007 published a book written with Thomas, “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America.”

“I was one of those people adding fuel to this partisan fire,” Mr. Beckel said….her.

Mr. Beckel’s bare-knuckled approach to politics didn’t always end on Election Day. In 2007, while sitting in his car in a parking lot in Bethesda, Md., he noticed two construction commenting on his bumper stickers disparaging Bush and Republicans.

“Boys, get away from the bumper stickers,” Mr. Beckel said, getting out of his car, as he later told The Post.

“You got no respect for the presidency,” one of the workers said.

“I certainly do,” Mr. Beckel responded. “It’s this president that I have very little respect for.”

A fistfight ensued, with the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Mr. Beckel ending up with a black eye while knocking one of the men to the pavement.

“I’m sort of asking for trouble,” Mr. Beckel said of his bumper stickers. But “they’ll stay exactly where they are — proudly.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004. He previously worked for publications in Washington, New York, North Carolina and Florida.
Also see the New York Times obit by Clay Risen headlined “Bob Beckel, Liberal Operative Who Became a Fixture on Fox, Dies at 73”. The opening grafs:

Bob Beckel, who parlayed a lengthy career as a Democratic political operative into an even longer one as a TV pundit, mostly for Fox News, where he assumed the role of avuncular in-house liberal with a penchant for saying whatever was on his mind, died on Sunday at his home in Silver Spring, Md….

As a pundit, Mr. Beckel often traded punches with the likes of Sean Hannity and Greg Gutfeld. But some of his positions — though he defended Barack Obama, he called for a freeze on visas for Muslim and Chinese students — meant that he often had more friends on the right than the left.

“He and I got along great. He had a key to my house,” Mr. Hannity said on his show on Monday. Appearing alongside Mr. Hannity, Laura Ingraham, another Fox host, called him “an old-time liberal you could fight with.”

But Mr. Beckel frequently crossed the line into cultural insensitivity. On the Fox News show “The Five,” where he was a host, he used racial slurs for Chinese people and repeatedly questioned the loyalty of Muslim-Americans. “I am an Islamophobe. That’s right — you can call me that all you want,” he said in 2015, after the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Fox News fired him in 2015, ostensibly over a dispute about an extended medical leave, which began with back surgery but, after he became addicted to pain killers, turned into a stay in rehab. The network rehired him in early 2017 to great fanfare — only to fire him again a few months later, after a Black employee accused him of making a racist remark.

Mr. Beckel denied the charge, saying he had been set up because of his constant criticism of President Donald Trump.

Mr. Beckel rose to national prominence as the outspoken campaign manager for Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. By all accounts he ran a savvy race, helping his candidate overcome an embarrassing loss in the New Hampshire primary to Senator Gary Hart of Colorado — in part by persuading Mr. Mondale to question the substance of Mr. Hart’s agenda during a debate by uttering the popular catchphrase, “Where’s the beef?”

Mr. Mondale clinched the nomination, but Ronald Reagan trounced him that November in one of the most lopsided elections in recent history.

Soon after, Mr. Beckel announced he was done with campaigns, but not politics. The next year he established a consulting firm, advising politicians and corporate clients, and he hung out his hat as a pundit on cable, network and local news coverage through the 1990s….


  1. Bill Powell says

    I served with Bob in the Peace Corps in the Philippines in the 70’s. Sorry to hear this. May he rest in Peace.

    Bill Powell
    RPCV Philippines 1971-75

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