Serving as Texas Tech’s vice provost for International Affairs, Nagy has been advising presidential campaigns on foreign policy since the first Obama campaign.
Tibor Nagy, Texas Tech University's vice provost for International Affairs, has carried many titles throughout his lifetime: Texas Tech alumnus, ambassador, educator, foreign policy expert and presidential campaign adviser.
In 2008 he was recruited by the Barack Obama campaign as an adviser on a voluntary basis for Obama's African foreign policy group. Nagy said he learned a lot during the president's first campaign, and his time as Obama's consultant would lead to more work in campaigns to come.
“I was very happy here at Texas Tech, so I didn't look to find a job in the administration, because I had been there and done that,” Nagy said. “But then the next time, for the 2012 elections, I was contacted early on by some friends on the Republican side who were actively involved in the Romney campaign.”
During Romney's 2012 campaign, Nagy served as the co-chair for the African foreign policy group that consulted Romney during the campaign. His job involved putting together a team to replicate the organization of the U.S. Department of State's African bureau. Nagy's team members were responsible for different areas of Africa and prepared suggested policy options on issues of development, terrorism and other topics on foreign policy.
Before presidential debates, Nagy and his team compiled materials to prepare Romney for questions on African policy.
“The presidential candidates have to know something about everything,” Nagy said. “A lot of the foreign policy is quite peripheral and it's only of interest if something happens. We recommended an overall foreign policy toward Africa. In other words, what could Romney do that was different from what President Obama was doing?”
Nagy and his team prepared for weekly conferences with experts all over the world to keep Romney in the loop about current events and issues.
Now, for the 2016 campaign, Nagy has been recruited by current and past presidential candidates.
Nagy said consultants need to accept how their areas of expertise fit in with the campaign's overall priorities and remember that, for most issues, the candidate is interested only in the “30,000-foot view” and not all of the complexities at ground level.
“People forget they're experts on a certain area,” Nagy said. “But their expertise runs so deep, their knowledge goes way beyond what the candidates need to know. Right now the candidates only need to know about the absolute largest issues. They only need the background, a fundamental knowledge and then flag the important things when they happen.
“For example, with the area of Africa, the issues aren't going to be at the center of foreign policy unless something really big happens, like Ebola. If that was to get out of control again, my area would be on the burner. It's extremely interesting, a lot of fun, and you feel like you're contributing to the political process.”
When it comes to being a political consultant, Nagy's No. 1 rule has to do with ethics.
“You have to have a candidate whose positions you believe in,” he said. “If you support the candidate's positions on things that are really important, then go for it. On African policy, there isn't much difference between Democratic Party Africanists and Republican Party Africanists. The fundamental goal is the same, and we tend to get along pretty well.”
Politics have been a part of Nagy's life since he was a child. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1949, he arrived in the United States as a political refugee in 1957. After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas Tech and George Washington University, respectively, Nagy joined the Foreign Services as a management analyst in the Bureau of Personnel. His first overseas assignment was in Lusaka, Zambia, and then later in Victoria, Seychelles. When he became an ambassador, Nagy served in Ethiopia and Guinea and has worked with other African countries such as Togo, Cameroon and Nigeria.
In his role at Texas Tech, Nagy feels he represents the U.S., Texas and Texas Tech as an ambassador.
“When you represent the United States, your first job is to represent the interests of the U.S.,” Nagy said. “When I was an ambassador, I always had three flags on my desk: the American flag, the flag of Hungary and the Texas flag. I also had Texas Tech memorabilia all over my office.
“I've always felt like I was an ambassador of the United States and I was an ambassador of Texas and Texas Tech at the same time. I've always been proud of Texas Tech and considered it an institution second to none that prepares its students as well as anyone else.”
For the current presidential election, Nagy said he hopes to advise a campaign that will win the presidency.
“It's a very interesting field,” Nagy said. “It's going to be an extremely interesting election. When you're working as an adviser, you feel like you're doing something good for the country and it's a tremendous amount of fun.”