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Pat Caddell, Carter Pollster Turned MAGA Supporter, Has Passed Away

He made multiple appearances on Fox News. He was a Democrat, but reportedly no longer felt that he belonged there. In his last days, he became a Trump supporter, saying that Make America Great Again was the greatest slogan he has heard in his life.  We’re talking about Pat Caddell, who passed away at the age of 68 due to complications from a stroke. Caddell got Jimmy Carter elected, but also admits that he dashed his second term hopes, specifically by advising the then-president to give a speech that became known as the infamous “malaise” speech in which Carter looked like an effete leader who just didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Caddell made reaching out and identifying voters who had felt they’d been left behind a hallmark characteristic of his polling operation and political advice to candidates  (via NYT):


Patrick Caddell, the political pollster who helped send an obscure peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter to the White House, later became disillusioned with fellow Democrats and finally veered to advise supporters of Donald J. Trump, died on Saturday in Charleston, S.C. He was 68.

His death, from complications of a stroke, was confirmed by a colleague, Prof. Kendra Stewart of the College of Charleston.

While Mr. Caddell was considered instrumental in Mr. Carter’s victory, he also shared the blame for limiting him to a single term. He helped persuade the president to deliver a speech that was intended to inspirit the nation during an energy crisis and economic slump, but instead tarred Mr. Carter as a weakling who was unable to lift the country out of its malaise.


By the late 1980s, Mr. Caddell had become disaffected with the Democratic Party, and appealing to alienated voters became a major element of the advice he delivered to candidates.

Scott Miller, a colleague who developed the political research site, said that many people would not miss his “needling and nettling,” but “the fact is, political calm made Pat very uneasy.”

“That calm means that the cement of the status quo is hardening, that the inevitable corruption of power is taking deeper root, that incumbent complacency is turning overripe on the vine,” Mr. Miller said in an email. “This drew him to the change leaders: to George McGovern, to Jimmy Carter, to Gary Hart, to Steven Jobs, to Ross Perot and eventually to Donald Trump.”


Eleanor Clift charted Caddell’s journey from Democratic pollster to MAGA warrior in her Daily Beast piece, first hearing about the man when she was a rookie reporter for Newsweek covering Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential run:

In 1976, he was any reporter’s dream source, plugged in, mostly fearless, and very smart. The night of the New Hampshire primary, I had been fighting a nasty cold which was rapidly turning into something more serious—pneumonia as it turned out. My assignment for Newsweek was to stick as close to the Carter team as possible, and my hacking cough gained me sympathy.


For a time after that, Caddell was adrift, and bitter about all things Washington. A profile in the Los Angeles Times in 1988 — after he’d moved there, to what he calls "the real world" and says he will "lead the revolution" from — describes him as a man without a candidate. Politics, he says, is “a cesspool which the consultants designed, and the press gets to be the pump." He vowed to "take a blowtorch and burn right through" his adversaries.


Last year, in November, Caddell spoke on a panel with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend Conference in Florida. He cited a raft of numbers that explained Trump’s victory in 2016, according to an article on the Breitbart news site. Seventy-five percent of Americans believed the country was in decline; only 15 percent of U.S. citizens believe that if you work hard, you will succeed, while 85 percent of Americans think the rich and powerful rigged the system for their benefit.

“This is ultimately the truth,” Caddell said. “Political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right for the American people, 81 percent of Americans agree.” He declared “Make America Great Again” the greatest slogan of his lifetime.

In recent years, much of the political world dismissed Caddell as off the rails, but the core of his critique of our politics has proven all too prescient. A Washington monthly 1987 profile said:  “Caddell believes the key to winning contemporary elections is appealing to 'alienated' voters—that ever-growing group of mostly younger voters who are not easily identified as liberal or conservative and don't trust government, politicians, or the parties. You can't lure these voters with programs and stands on specific issues, so the theory goes. Rather, you must remain as uncommitted as they are. You lure them by attacking that which caused their alienation: the Establishment.


Rest in peace, Mr. Caddell. 

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