If there were a formula for creating outspoken political pundits, Andrea Tantaros ’01 may have hit on it: Combine one curious and strong-willed child with politically active and highly opinionated parents. Add a rigorous university experience that challenged a conservative world view.
In short order, you would have Lehigh Valley-born Tantaros, a commentator on FOX News, a columnist for the New York Daily News, and erstwhile manager of high-profile political campaigns.
Tantaros’ path to conservative punditry stardom was aided by her experience at Lehigh, where she sharpened her debating skills while sparring with professors and students.
“I remember (journalism professor) Kathy Olson as just fantastic,” Tantaros says. “We disagreed on many issues, but we found common ground on the principle that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. She appreciated my strong opinions, which tended to be diametrically opposed to hers, but she challenged me and empowered me, and I always appreciated that.”
A lifelong love for debate
Tantaros’ mother was active in Republican politics, and her father was “the quintessential swing voter” and a strong proponent of limited government, hard work and personal responsibility. “There were always very spirited political discussions in our home,” she recalls. “I remember how happy my parents were when I went to Lehigh and found other people to argue with.”
She coupled her Lehigh studies with The Université de Paris in France, gained proficiency in Spanish, French and Greek, and considered a career in the U.S. State Department until her mother wisely dissuaded her.
“She said, ‘If there’s anything you’re not, it’s a diplomat,’ and she’s right,” Tantaros says.
A production internship with CNN’s now-defunct political discussion program Crossfire was a deciding factor for Tantaros, who also considered journalism and law school before settling on a career in politics.
“I realized I didn’t want to be behind the scenes,” she said. “I wanted to be on the set, debating.”
She threw herself into the “grueling but incredibly exciting” world of political campaigns, and found that she flourished in the intense and demanding environment. She directed communications for a roster of clients that included former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and New York Attorney General Jeanine Piro, and is widely credited with helping former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas Reynolds narrowly win reelection in 2006.
Developing a thick skin
Tantaros also worked as press secretary to GOP leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and helped craft a media strategy that was key to Republicans retaining the majority until Democrats retook the House in 2006.
Tantaros draws a distinction between party principles and her own beliefs.
“I’m not a Republican. I’m a conservative,” she says. “One of the best things about having a column in the New York Daily News is that I can express my personal views without being wedded to party ideology.”
Her success and visibility haven’t come without drawbacks. The pressure of maintaining a high profile in a competitive and rapidly evolving field can be tremendous, and the criticism can be withering.
One detractor labeled her “an aggrieved chrononaut, determined to spew forth a stinky modicum of baby spit-up on an America that has moved on without her.” Others have called her worse.
“I feel so blessed to have all the opportunities I’ve had, so I take the criticism with a triple helping of salt,” she says. “I’ve developed a thick skin over the years, and when you’re in the public eye, a woman, a conservative, and young, you almost expect it. If I’m making liberals that angry, I must be doing something right.”
Her columns are found at www.andreatantaros.com. Follow her on Twitter @andreatantaros.