Craigan Paul Shirley (born September 24, 1956) is an American author, lecturer, historian and public affairs consultant. He has written four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan that include Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America (2014), Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (2005), Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan (2015), and Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980 (2017). He is also the author of Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative (2017), the only authorized biography of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich‘s early career. Shirley’s latest book, Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother, a biography about George Washington’s mother, was released this past December of 2019. It won the “People’s Choice Award” from the Library of Virginia in 2020. He is currently working on three new books on Ronald Reagan including The Search for Reagan and Morning in America. He is currently writing April, 1945, The Hinge of History.
Shirley also wrote December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World, a New York Times bestseller published in December 2011 about the attack on Pearl Harbor and its effects on the American people and culture. Most of Shirley’s books have gone to paperback or have been made into talking books. Several documentaries have been produced based in part on the 1976 and 1980 Reagan campaigns and on December 1941, for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Rendezvous with Destiny was cited in a Wall Street Journal column by Michael Medved as one of the five best campaign books of all time. John Heubusch, Director of the Reagan Library has called Shirley the “unofficial, official biographer of Ronald Reagan.”
Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Shirley earned a degree in History and Political Science from Springfield College. Shirley was named by the London Telegraph, “the best of the Reagan biographers”  Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard called him “a prominent biographer of Ronald Reagan,” Mark Levin called him “one of the best of the Reagan biographers,” and the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, said Shirley is a “noted Ronald Reagan biographer.” Laura Ingraham has often cited Shirley’s authority as a Reagan scholar, and author. Romesh Ratnesar wrote in a review in The New York Times that he “is a sure-footed and entertaining observer of the hurly-burly of national politics.” Reagan’s former speechwriter Aram Bakshian referred to him as “the best source for understanding Ronald Reagan.” Shirley’s third book on Reagan’s final years, Last Act, was also highly praised for its rich writing and intricate detail and research.
With regard to his fourth book, Reagan Rising, Reagan speechwriter Clark Judge called Shirley “the most prolific and….most influential” of the Reagan biographers. He compared Shirley’s writings to the Greek general, Thucydides, who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War, after having fought in it. “Reading Craig Shirley has become essential for any Ronald Reagan student,” said Judge.
Shirley is now working on more books on Reagan including a detailed look at his 1968 run for the presidency. He is also writing a book about Dr. Howard Snyder, personal physician to President Dwight Eisenhower. He also plans to write the sequel to Citizen Newt, about Newt Gingrich‘s years as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He is working on a book about James Monroe.
Shirley has also written numerous articles and given dozens of lectures about the life and times and lessons of Ronald Reagan.
Life and career
Youth and education
Shirley is the second son of Edward Bruce Shirley and Barbara Cone Shirley. He is of English and Scottish descent. His parents were charter members of the New York State Conservative Party and his father was the first registered conservative voter in the Empire State. In 1964 young Shirley went door to door for presidential candidate Barry Goldwater at age 8. In high school, Shirley was a standout athlete, winning six varsity letters, winning the league pole vaulting championship and was named “Most Improved Athlete” his senior year. He was also the editor of his high school newspaper.
Craig Shirley was professionally involved in American politics and government for over three decades. He worked in government and on campaigns at the congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential levels but now spend his time writing and lecturing on presidential politics and American history.
In the fall of 1978, Shirley was press secretary for Gordon Humphrey, who scored a huge upset win in the U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire. Shirley then served on Humphrey’s Washington D.C. staff. Ronald Reagan came into New Hampshire to campaign for Humphrey, where Shirley first met Governor Reagan.
In 1980, he ran an important independent expenditure campaign in support of former California governor Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid, in the first six primary states, on behalf of the Fund for a Conservative Majority. Shirley produced and placed radio and newspaper ads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and three other states, maximizing the three quarters of a million dollars that FCM budgeted for the campaign to help Reagan at a time when the campaign was broke.
He joined the staff of the Republican National Committee in 1982. As a Communications Advisor, Shirley traveled across the country advising dozens of campaigns and state committees on public relations, political advertising, and campaign strategy to co-ordinate with the message of the Reagan White House.
In 1984, during the U.S. presidential campaign, Shirley was the Director of Communications for the National Conservative Political Action Committee, America’s largest independent political committee, which spent over $14 million on behalf of President Ronald Reagan’s re-election on another independent expenditure campaign. In 1986, he became a consultant to the Fund for America’s Future, the political action committee of Vice President George H. W. Bush, working closely with the future President George W. Bush. Shirley was retained and tasked with the goal of organizing conservative support for George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential bid.
After Reagan’s reelection, in the late fall of 1984, Shirley opened his own firm and worked on numerous matters in co-ordination with the Reagan White House including aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, support for the Strategic Defensive Initiative, support for the Afghanistan Mujaheddin, support for Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA, and support for the Tax Reform Act of 1986. He also worked on the White House Conference on Small Business in 1985.
In 1991, Shirley ran a major advertising and public affairs campaign supporting President Bush and Operation Desert Storm, later he represented the Embassy of the State of Kuwait, and was placed in charge of public relations for an international conference on democracy hosted in Prague by President Václav Havel of then Czechoslovakia. For a short time, Shirley and David Keene partnered in a firm, but that association ended amicably in 1992.
In 1994, Shirley organized a successful grassroots campaign to stop the “Clinton Crime Bill” on behalf of a host of clients, including the National Rifle Association. The collapse of the “Clinton Crime Bill” led directly to the historic GOP takeover of Congress later that year.
During the 1990s, Shirley conceived and created Citizens for State Power, which represented small investor owned utilities and they successfully stopped the attempts by Enron to nationalize the electricity grid. Shirley also advised the Southeastern Legal Foundation to file suit against the Clinton Administration’s attempt to politicize the census. The case went to the Supreme Court and there the SLF prevailed, defeating Clinton in an historic 5–4 vote. Shirley pioneered the “New Media“—and indeed coined the very phrase—of talk radio, faxes, e-mail and later the internet to mobilize for politics and policy. He has also coined the term “Vichy Republicans” and “Police State Republicans.”
Shirley led a team of Reagan historians and Reagan White House veterans to challenge the veracity and truthfulness of Bill O’Reilly‘s book, Killing Reagan. He later contributed to the cancellation of Will Ferrell‘s comedy about Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s. He also consults occasionally for the Reagan Library on special projects and campaign-related exhibits.
In addition to working with a host of political, corporate, and trade concerns, he served as an informal advisor to the 1996 campaign of Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole. In 2000, his firm provided in-kind support to the presidential campaign of then Governor George W. Bush as well as the Florida recount. In that same year, Craig Shirley & Associates became Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.
Through his writings, he has popularized the philosophy of “Localism,” and indeed coined the phrase, a 21st-century version of Federalism.
After September 11th, 2001, a brick was thrown through the plate glass window of an Islamic book store in Alexandria, Virginia. Shirley paid for the replacement glass. Sometime thereafter, thieves still $2,000 worth of Christmas trees a local Boy Scout troop was planning to sell so they could go to the Philmont Scout Ranch. Shirley donated $2,000 to the Scouts so they could keep their plans.
Shirley was also a decorated contract agent for the CIA.
Achievements and awards
He is also a member of the Reagan Alumni Association and The Ronald Reagan Society. He has addressed the Friends of Ronald Reagan association in Los Angeles and occasionally consults for the Reagan Library, especially on campaign displays and political history.
He was chosen in 2005 by Springfield College as their Outstanding Alumnus and has been named the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. He taught a week long class, “Reagan 101” at Eureka College in 2012.
He was also appointed as a Trustee of Eureka. He is also a member of the school’s Reagan Forward Advisory Council.
In the fall of 2019, he taught a course on Ronald Reagan at the University of Virginia in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
His writings have solved some of the mysteries of Washington and politics including the stolen Carter Briefing Books in 1980, the missing cornerstone to the U.S. Capitol  and the real story about the night of the Watergate break in, to name just a few. He also uncovered a Top Secret memo written by the Office of Naval Intelligence on December 4, 1941, putting information on the possible attack at Pearl Harbor inside the Roosevelt White House, three days before the attack.
His book December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World (2011), was nominated for 2011 Book of the Year Award by Foreword Reviews magazine. His book, Last Act, was named best narrative in the non-fiction category by USA Book News for 2015.
He is a member of various author’s guilds, Philadelphia Society, the Fusionist Society and the Lyn Nofziger Society. He is a former board member of the American Conservative Union. He has lectured at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics.
He has lectured at the Buckley Center at Yale, at Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics at UVA, at Georgetown University, at Hillsdale College, at Regent University, the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and other colleges and universities. He has also addressed the Ronald Reagan Lecture Series in Los Angeles in 2017. He taught a class on Reagan at the University of Virginia. Shirley is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.
He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the historic Christ Church, is a member of the Tappahannock Rotary and he and Zorine are member of the Rappahannock Christian Church.
Op-eds and media appearances
Shirley is a frequent commentator on politics. He has written for publications including The Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Townhall, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Examiner, Newsmax, National Review, Reuters, Investors Business Daily, Politico, Breitbart, Lifezette, Conservative Review, CNS News, and many other publications. He is frequently sought after for televised interviews on all major networks, including CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, FOX Business and CNN.
He is a regular commentator on Newsmax TV, appearing
often on John Bachman’s Newsmax Now and with Greg
Kelley and with Rob
Craig Shirley and his wife, Zorine, are the parents of four children, Matthew, Andrew, Taylor and Mitchell. They split their time between “Trickle Down Point” on the Rappahannock River in Lancaster, Virginia and “Ben Lomond,” a 300-year-old four square Georgian manor house in Tappahannock, VA. His hobbies include sailing, writing, scuba diving, water skiing, sport shooting, and renovating old buildings.
In 1984 while at a political fundraiser on the presidential yacht Sequoia, Shirley caught actress and dancer Ginger Rogers, who had snagged her high heel on the rug on the steps at the aft of the boat. Rodgers later that night attended a state dinner at the White House hosted by her old co-star, Ronald Reagan.
Shirley is the acting chairman of the revived political action committee, Citizens for the Republic. It was originally established in January 1977 by Ronald Reagan after his defeat for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, the preceding summer. On its website, Citizens for the Republic describes itself as a “national organization dedicated to revitalizing the conservative movement. Through education, grassroots organization, advocacy, and political activism…promoting the principles of limited government, maximum freedom, personal responsibility, peace through strength, and defense of the dignity of every individual”. The CFTR directors include former Reagan advisors and consultants, such as the honorable Ed Meese and Reagan speechwriter Mari Maseng Will.
Shirley is the founder of the Ft. Hunt Youth Lacrosse Program, and was a coach there for 14 years. In the 20 plus years since Shirley founded the program, thousands of boys and girls have enjoyed learning and playing for Ft. Hunt. Shirley was instrumental in getting the Maryland legislature to make lacrosse the state’s sport. He was also an editor of Coaching Youth Lacrosse, published by the Lacrosse Foundation.
His coaching record was 121 wins and 19 losses when he was head coach.
- Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (Thomas Nelson, 2005)
- Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009)
- December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World (Thomas Nelson, 2011)
- Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan (Thomas Nelson, 2015)
- Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980 (HarperCollins, 2017)
- Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative (Thomas Nelson, 2017)
- Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother (HarperCollins, 2019)
- April 1945: The Hinge of History (HarperCollins, 2022)