Fred Malek: Rest in peace

I’m going to miss Fred Malek.

Fred Malek was one of the most important doers, organizers, fundraisers in the Republican Party for the last 40 years. He was a star in the Nixon administration serving as special assistant and Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. By 2008, Fred was the finance director of Senator McCain’s Presidential Campaign. Fred supported pro-growth, conservative internationalists for the House, Senate, and the Presidency.

After his stint in politics during the Nixon administration, Fred went into the private sector and had a fabulous career working for the Marriott Corporation before starting his own hotel investment company called Thayer Capital.

ADVERTISEMENT

I first came across Fred Malek when he was the campaign chairman for Bush 41’s re-election in 1992. He was already a major figure in the Republican Party and somebody who was trusted across the aisle. He helped expand and grow the Republican Governors Association while he was the chair. It’s not a coincidence that the Republican Party has held as many as 34 out of 50 governorships across the U.S. in recent years, the highest number ever for the GOP. Those results are the work of decades of focused work on recruiting, supporting, and encouraging leaders to step forward and lead states effectively. Some of the governors that came out of this period included Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, among many others.

Fred Malek helped great political talent emerge. Raising money is a hard, miserable business and one can only really do it if one believes in a candidate. If Fred Malek was supporting a candidate, you knew the candidate was a person of integrity, the candidate wouldn’t embarrass you, and the candidate was highly competent. Fred was generous with his time, a genuinely nice man, smart, and hard-working. He was a fitness nut who could do an incredible number of pull-ups well into his 80s. He had a wonderful partnership with his wife, Marlene Malek. They were not only generous with their time in politics, but also generous with their philanthropy.

One of Fred Malek’s great pains in his life was a mistake he made in the Nixon administration. Nixon suspected that there was “disloyalty” in the Department of Labor against his administration. This was assumed to be because some federal employees were suspected of being either Democrats, Jewish, or both. Fred put together a memo of who he thought were the Jewish staffers in the Department of Labor. It was a terribly wrong exercise, and Fred regretted it his entire life.

In 2014, my wife and I attended a dinner honoring Fred Malek that was hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. Senator Norm Coleman and many other leading lights of the Republican Party were there. The leader of ADL said that Fred was a good man, and implicitly said that Fred was forgiven. The ADL dinner was in some ways a living eulogy.

Fred was always a straight shooter. I spoke to him several months ago and we were lamenting a certain elected official. Fred threw up his hands and said, “He’s effective, but he’s such a turd.”

The country is a better place because of Fred’s efforts and public service. Fred was a wonderful leader and he’s going to be sorely missed.

Daniel Runde is a Senior Vice President and William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, and in investment banking, with experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.