Pat Caddell – Pollster, Populist, and Patriot – Dies at 68

Pat Caddell speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Veteran pollster Pat Caddell passed away Saturday at his home in Charleston, SC, at the age of 68.

Caddell was a Breitbart News contributor and regular guest on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio programs. His willingness to challenge conventional political wisdom – combined with his decades of campaign experience – set him apart as a strategist who got things right when so many others got them wrong. This was strikingly obvious in 2016, when Caddell was the sole pollster to understand Donald Trump’s voters and the New York builder’s path to victory.

Long before Trump threw his hat in the political ring, Caddell became famous for helping elect another outsider. The self-taught pollster and native of South Carolina was instrumental in getting the nationally unknown governor of Georgia elected president in 1976.

Caddell’s analysis of the changing political landscape of the American South helped steer Jimmy Carter’s campaign to victory by latching onto broad themes and focusing resources into key states. His role was so crucial to Carter’s success that after Carter won the Democratic Party’s nomination in the summer of 1976, his campaign manager, Hamilton Jordan, told a reporter: “You know why Jimmy Carter is going to be president? Because of Pat Caddell – it’s all because of Pat Caddell.”

Caddell, who went on to serve in the Carter administration, also took his share of the blame for the 39th president’s failure to secure a second term. He was criticized by many for encouraging Carter to deliver a speech meant to lift the country’s spirits during the energy and economic crisis that instead had the opposite effect of creating the impression of a president unable to see his way through the “malaise” of American decline.

By the late 1980s, Caddell became disaffected with the direction of the Democratic Party, as it veered further to the left and away from the concerns of average American voters. He continued his successful work as a pollster and political campaign consultant and later became a contributor to Fox News.

As a regular on Breitbart News’ SiriusXM radio shows, the gravel-voiced Caddell’s incisive analysis of the mood of American voters and his acerbic wit in pointing out the “fecklessness” of the GOP establishment became regular features of Breitbart’s 2016 election coverage. He also partnered with Breitbart to provide polling analysis in battleground states.

Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow often called Caddell “the oracle” of American politics. Even a cursory review of his political analysis at Breitbart justifies that praise, revealing Caddell’s uncanny ability to cut to the heart of an issue and accurately predict the direction of the country.

Following the 2016 election, the longtime Democrat declared that his party was “hollowed out” and unable “to reach out beyond identity politics.” They “keep falling back on the same mantras,” he said.

Caddell lamented that “What’s missing is a positive vision of restoring my party to what it once was, truly the party of the common man, as opposed to a party of bi-coastal elites” that relies on “divisive identity politics to win.”

Trump, on the other hand, tapped into the sense of “insurgency” that many voters felt.

In March 2016, Caddell told Breitbart News, “You’ve got 70-some percent of the American people who believe flat out that both political parties have failed economically and that we need a different approach. We have had this pantomime – this kabuki theater of politics for too long, and now people are worried.”

He predicted that the American public was at a “tipping point” where they wanted to “overthrow their leadership through the democratic process.” The election outcome proved him correct.

He would later declare that “Make America Great Again was the greatest slogan of my lifetime.”

In a panel discussion in November 2017, Caddell reflected back on the 2016 campaign and the mood of the country:

[He] explained that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was able to tap into the anti-establishment fervor building with the 2016 presidential campaign.

Caddell said that 75 percent of Americans believed that the country was in decline and on the wrong track.

The polling analyst also argued that only 15 percent of U.S. citizens believe that if you work hard, you will succeed in this country, while 85 percent of Americans think that the rich and powerful rigged the system for their benefit.

Caddell added, “This is ultimately the truth.”

“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,” Caddell charged.

Caddell was a vocal critic of the failure of his fellow pollsters in 2016. He explained that pollsters “are alchemists. They are not scientists. This is an art, not necessarily just a mathematical science. You needed to look in-depth and I think any in-depth poll would have likely shown that it was going to be close and it was party driven.”

He also accurately predicted the troubles the Trump administration would face in the first two years of Trump’s presidency if then-Speaker Paul Ryan and his GOP establishment cronies were given control over the president’s policy agenda. Paul Ryan, Caddell said, represents “the Chamber of Commerce Republican Establishment party” whose ideas were “slaughtered in 2016.”

In a March 2017 interview on Breitbart radio, Caddell warned, “The great concern for the Trump administration is that it’s a Trump White House, but is this going to be a Ryan government?” He warned that the GOP establishment would use Trump “to impose what they want to do rather than supporting what he got elected to do.”

The recent fight with Democrats over funding for Trump’s border wall has proven Caddell’s warning to be all too true. As Trump acknowledged in his remarks on Friday announcing his emergency declaration to build the border wall, “I was a little new to the job, little new to the profession, and we had a little disappointment for the first year-and-a-half. People that should have stepped up didn’t step up. They didn’t step up and they should have.”

“Trump is surrounded by leadership in his own party and in his own White House who are constantly stabbing him in the back and his agenda,” Caddell told Breitbart News after the 2018 midterms. “The Republican Party is essentially wusses. They will not fight. They don’t believe in fighting. They just lay down roll over, and usually for their donor class, who are basically antithetical to 90 percent of Republicans and what they want.”

Months earlier, Caddell accurately predicted that the GOP would lose the House in 2018 due to the failure of Paul Ryan and establishment Republicans to “nationalize” the midterms around the populist trade and immigration policies that got Trump elected.

He was also an unflinching critic of media bias, calling out CNN and even his former network Fox News for bias and botched reporting.

Right after the election, in November 2016, Caddell criticized the media’s “outrageous” attacks on Trump voters, singling out CNN in particular for labeling “everybody a racist” for supporting Trump. “What they have not admitted is their complicity in Hillary Clinton’s campaign or their unbelievable bias, and worse, their smearing of people,” Caddell said, pointing out that CNN contributor Donna Brazile had provided questions to Hillary Clinton before a scheduled Democratic primary debate on the cable news network.

“They need to start a new, clean effort to inform the American people, not to dictate to them. This is the loss of journalism,” he said, but unfortunately this advice was not heeded.

By July 2017, Caddell was again calling out CNN, this time over the network’s attack on a Reddit user allegedly responsible for a gif meme showing President Trump wrestling the CNN logo. CNN’s behavior had “damaged itself” so much, Caddell said, “that you have to wonder: Does it really deserve to be called a news organization anymore?”

“What we have with CNN is the breakdown of the news network, which has become overwhelmingly a politically driven, ideological antagonist to a sitting president to the exclusion of everything else.”

Over the years, Caddell reserved his greatest praise for ordinary Americans and his greatest opprobrium for the elites who seek “to manage the nation’s decline.”

He liked to remind people that America “will not go gently into that good night of decline.” He saw the 2016 election as a testament to the American people’s affirmation of exceptionalism and their desire to reclaim greatness.

In a Breitbart radio interview in 2017, Caddell explained that politics today is not about being on the right or the left; it’s about the fight for the future of America.

“This country is exceptional,” he said. “We dream and do the impossible, and we have survived. And it would be an abomination before God for this country to go into the dark night. The whole world would suffer.”


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