My friend Don Skelly once said that in this age of cable television, chefs and political consultants have become famous. The pioneer of modern political polling and consulting, Pat Caddell, died on Saturday of a stroke at the age of 68.
A great man is dead.
At the age of 22, his innovative polling (self-taught) helped Sen. George McGovern win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Then, Caddell's insights and advice were directly responsible for Jimmy Carter's successful run four years later in 1976. He guided Carter during his presidency, swimming uphill against the president's indecision and increasing inadequacy in the face of mounting crises at home and abroad.
After Carter's defeat, Caddell was the iconoclast among political consultants. His instincts and perspectives were unusually accurate, and he became something of a lodestar, guiding clients and his public audiences on television past the conventional wisdom to the truth.
I had the joy and honor to work with him during the Romney campaign as we labored for Americans for Prosperity's independent expenditure. Pat's frustration with the dogmatic and increasingly elite and remote Democratic Party leadership led him to back Romney, and we were like a tag team in wrestling as we battled to turn the campaign around.
We were particularly aggressive in urging — begging, really — the campaign to answer the attacks by Obama in the spring of 2012, which changed Romney's image from one of entrepreneurship to vulture capitalism. It was an unfair characterization of Romney's record, but his campaign stubbornly refused to rebut the charges, and they stuck.
Pat spoke of how Romney's image was changing among white blue-collar voters and alienating them in droves. When Trump won, following the path of identifying with blue-collar populists that Romney had spurned, the shortcomings in Romney's approach became glaringly apparent.
Pat thought faster than he talked, often speaking in staccato shorthand, as deeply profound ideas crowded his fertile and feverish brain, tumbling over one another and seeking a place on his tongue.
Pat was without peer. He was easily the best political consultant with whom I have ever had the honor to work.
When we look back on his ideas, his commitment to discerning and voicing the will and thoughts of the people, his record becomes one of patriotism.
He was like an articulate trial lawyer practicing at the bar of democracy, caring what the average voter thought, not only to win elections but to help our system function. His survey research and his inspired interpretation of its findings gave voice to the inarticulate pain so many ordinary people felt.
Robert Frost wrote that poetry is about grief and politics about grievance. Caddell helped connect the two like a bridge over troubled water.