Pat Caddell legacy: Visionary or Traitor?

Pat Caddell attended the private Catholic high school, Bishop Kenny, in Jacksonville.  He was known as a statistical whiz who helped get Jimmy Carter elected President and later was a contributor to Fox News.  An article in the local newspaper, read, “Long before there was Karl Rove and James Carville, there was Patrick Caddell.”  He died on Saturday February 16, 2019.

He polled voters door to door for a project at Bishop Kenny High School and, after calling a close race in 1967, was described in a headline as “Mr. Prediction.”  His first professional political work was for Jacksonville state representative and Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Fred Schultz.  Caddell help facilitate Jacksonville’s consolidation by creating two separate districts for city council members, so they could support the initiative.    

Caddell worked for Senator George McGovern when he ran for President in 1972.  He described getting the job through a chance meeting with Gary Hart, the campaign manager for McGovern, in the Miami airport.  Caddell described how McGovern could pitch himself as a prairie populist to win the same voters Wallace won in the South and Robert Kennedy won in the north.  The common denominator was their opposition to the Vietnam War. Caddell broke down Wallace’s supporters into two camps: racists and populists.  Caddell believed the populists could be won over by a Democratic candidate who espoused populist ideals, like McGovern or Carter. 

He is credited with helping McGovern win the nomination and not blamed for his disastrous showing in the general election.  He also helped Jimmy Carter win the primaries and general election in 1976.  He was widely credited with the victory, by White House Chief of Staff and campaign manager, Hamilton Jordan.

Caddell had very high ambitions for President Carter.  Although he did not work in the White House, he authored a seventy-page memo titled, “Of Crisis and Opportunity.”  Caddell considered it a tour de force, while White House aides mocked it as the, “Apocalypse Now” memo.  It led to what has been called Carter’s “malaise” speech.  Carter never used the term “malaise,” but did say the county had a “crisis of confidence.”  Although initially considered a success, it is remembered as a failure now, as it gets conflated with Carter firing most of his cabinet after giving the speech.    

Caddell later worked for Democrats Senator Gary Hart, Senator Joe Biden and Governor Jerry Brown. He also worked as a consultant to movies, television shows and corporations. 

The primary focus of his political work was the disaffected or alienated voter.  Unlike a lot of the disgusted citizens, these folks still vote and there are, according to Caddell, millions of them.  These voters are unbound by ideological or party loyalty.  Many are young and distrust both parties. 

Recently, Caddell shared some of his polling which found 75 percent of American thought the country was in decline, 85 percent of Americans believe the rich and powerful have rigged the system in their favor, while only 15 percent believe if you work hard you will succeed.  Eighty-one percent of Americans believe political leaders are more concerned about protecting their positions than doing the right thing for the American people.” 

He called this the “Smith Project,” based on the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  He said of Trump in 2016, “He clearly wasn’t the best Mr. Smith but he was the ONLY Smith.” 

Caddell’s beliefs kept him from working for officials who were already elected.  He explained, “It’s not about finding solutions.  It’s about stoking fear and finding scapegoats.” Not surprisingly, he found work as a commentator on Fox News, bashing the Democratic Party.  He also found work as a writer for Breitbart News and on Sirius XM radio. 

Conservatives clearly found him useful.  On hearing of this death one conservative writer mourned his loss writing, “He was the last honorable Democrat and he knew it.”

One astute critic if Pat Caddell noted, “Promising disaffected voters…something you can’t deliver is more than just cynical, it’s reckless.”

Caddell early on saw that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were managing to tap into the alienated, Mr. Smith, constituency.  He said, “Make American Great Again” was the greatest slogan of his lifetime.  He was an advisor to one of Trumps largest financers, billionaire hedge-fund manager, Robert Mercer. 

Caddell still considered himself a Democrat and said, “What’s missing is a positive vision of restoring my party to what is once was, truly the party of the common man, as opposed to a hollowed-out party of bi-costal elites that relies on divisive identity politics to win.”  He revered FDR, Harry Truman, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

But he reserved a pox for the Republican house as well, saying, “The Republican party is basically wusses.  They won’t fight.  They just lay down and roll over for their donor class.” 

Caddell was considered intelligent, quick-tempered and blunt to a fault.  He was openly critical of elected officials who failed to live up to his standards.  He was admired and respected by many if befriended by few. 

According to some, he remained an idealist, quoting Whitman, that “America is the greatest poem” and FDR’s inaugural speech, “Let us all…constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage.”

But he left a warning as well, “People in the Washington establishment who think we’ll get rid of Trump and go back to normal have made a terrible miscalculation.  That’s not going to happen.  The paradigm shift that we went through in 2016, it’s still I motion.” 

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