Archive for Monday, October 31, 2011

Will Cain be just another ‘other’?

October 31, 2011


— Herman Cain is virtually tied with former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in Iowa and South Carolina. He’s running second here in New Hampshire. Some polls have him ahead of Romney nationally. Everybody’s examining 9-9-9, Cain’s simplified tax system. He’s the talk of the political world.

And coursing beneath that talk is this question, not verbalized but not answered either: Is Cain the 21st-century version of Wendell Willkie, the man Harold L. Ickes called the barefoot boy from Wall Street, the political naif who won the Republican presidential nomination in 1940 and ran to the left of Franklin Roosevelt on some issues, or is he a latter-day version of H. Ross Perot, who flared, flamed out, flared again and flamed out again two decades ago?

All three of them — Willkie, Perot and Cain — used sales pitches that were simple, reasonable, commonsensical. The first two lost their presidential bids. The third almost certainly will do so as well.

In Willkie’s case, the draw of FDR was too strong, the New Deal coalition too durable, the times too fraught to permit a romantic fling with a political novice who had the air of being an alluring first date but probably not a strong candidate for marriage.

In Perot’s case, the fact that he was more peculiar than political did him in. Today almost no one admits to having been a Perot supporter in 1992 — but at one point the Texas billionaire was running ahead of Gov. Bill Clinton in the polls.

Cain matches up

Cain presents a certain appeal even in an uncertain world. He’s a businessman, which matches him with Romney. He is black, which matches him with President Barack Obama. He wants taxes low, which matches him with the tea party insurgents who dominate the Republican conversation even if they have not created wholesale Republican conversion.

He’s not primarily a politician, which can be only an advantage in an age when 11 different polls put public disapproval ratings of Congress at more than 80 percent. And he’s not Romney, which for two-thirds of Republican primary voters remains a lure all its own.

So with all that, why do the various establishments — the political establishment, the Republican establishment, the press establishment and the consultancy establishment — believe with unwavering conviction that Cain will eventually become the answer to a trivia question, like Wilbur Mills (Who was the last chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to run for president?) or Endicott Peabody (Which former governor ran for vice president in a New Hampshire primary, even though there was no contest for vice president?) or maybe George Romney (Which one-time governor and presidential candidate was the father of another former governor who ran for president?).

Bucking the establishment

First let’s ask whether all those establishments can be wrong, or, more to the point, whether they are so entrenched that they are out of touch. In short, is the very fact of establishment disregard a validation of the Cain candidacy?

Maybe. If Cain does prevail, that certainly will be the case. But he probably won’t and it’s probably not. The old wisdom of the old order is often wrong — in fact it almost always is wrong, which is why the Maginot Line didn’t work — but the difference here is that the old order still makes the rules and still has power.

This is not the Republican Party of Romney’s father, when wizened elders controlled the political process the way old-time hostesses set out the place cards at dinner. But it’s not a raucous country potluck either, where anyone can sit anywhere and everyone eats family-style. If it were, Romney, whose principal calling card is experience, would not be the front-runner and Rick Perry, the Cal Ripken of the Texas capitol, wouldn’t still be in the race.

Put another way: Mao Zedong said that a revolution was not a dinner party, but for all the talk of Republican revolution, the GOP is still a dinner party. Cain is invited, to be sure, but he is sitting below the salt, and pizza is not on the menu.

Why the surge?

So what accounts for the Cain surge?

An iron law of presidential politics is that somebody’s got to surge, and this fall, it’s Cain. (Sen. Gary W. Hart had his surge in 1984, Bruce Babbitt had his in 1988, Paul E. Tsongas had one in 1992. None of these Democrats became president.)

This phenomenon is especially strong in this year’s campaign, when the front-runner exudes competence but not compassion, is regarded as smart but smarmy, and may be undeniable as a nominee but unsympathetic as a candidate. The openness he expresses to a flat tax even though he’s on record saying it is a threat to the middle class is dangerously close to his skepticism of a health care plan he supported and signed into law.

So somebody’s got to surge, and given that this is no presidential field of dreams, there is always a premium on the new. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was new once, and she had her moment in the Iowa sun. Perry was new once, and then he opened his mouth — or, more perilous for Perry, he failed to open his mouth during a parade of debates. Now Cain is new, and he’s enjoying an Indian summer of support.

Surges help Romney

This is going to go on like this for a while, and the beneficiary almost certainly will be Romney, electable if not likable. These surges help Romney’s rivals — the Others, you might call them — but they don’t hurt Romney. He is steady at about a third of the GOP vote. That’s not a lot, but it may be enough. The surges benefit one or another of the Others, but every one of the surges has come at the expense of the other Others, not the former Massachusetts governor.

That’s what’s happening with the surge by Cain, already under siege because his tax plan doesn’t add up, his comments on abortion are out of sync with the party, and his experience as a lobbyist doesn’t square with his profile as an outsider. The first challenge for him is not to win the nomination. First he must avoid becoming another Other.

— David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His email address is


Gandalf 6 years, 4 months ago

So what accounts for the Cain surge?

The teaparty mantra, anyone but Romney.

pace 6 years, 4 months ago

Hip to color? Doesn't matter to me the race of an candidate, look at their stands and how they back them up. Use a sharp pencil.

mloburgio 6 years, 4 months ago

Exclusive: 2 women accused Herman Cain of inappropriate behavior

During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.

Read more:

beatrice 6 years, 4 months ago

I have no idea if the allegations made against Cain are true, but I do see one distinct difference between Cain and Thomas -- Cain's accusers made the charges back in the 1990s, contemporaneous with the alleged harrassment. That is significant and quite different from Hill's recollections. At the time, Cain was the guy running the restaurant association, not someone running for office.

As often happens when women file charges of harrassment, I'm not at all surprised to see people instantly attacking the messengers.

jaywalker 6 years, 4 months ago

As usual, Shribman is spot on. I'd never even considered the parallels to candidates like Tsongas and Perot, but the pattern certainly fits. The fact Romney's base has remained faithful is an interesting point. And I'd also have to agree that while Cain makes for an appealing candidate, as a nominee I'm not sure his 'likability' would persist.
Romney, to me, is such a difficult choice to back. He waffles more than Eggo and too often he reminds me of a long forgotten soap actor trying his hand at a new job. I still think that the President vs. Cain would be a much more interesting race and the only chance conservatives have to win back the WH. I just can't see Romney winning.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

Herman, just like Michelle B., is working on his image and hoping to sell some books. Neither one of them stands a chance, but the novelty is entertaining to some. The R's will get 'stuck' with Mitt. Get used to it.

voevoda 6 years, 4 months ago

What would Shribman say about Cain's new position on abortion, published in the paper edition of today's LJW? Cain now says that all abortions, for any reason at all including saving the life of the mother, ought to be illegal. That position ought to lose him just about 100% of the female voting population.

ferrislives 6 years, 4 months ago

You must not have watched Cain on Face the Nation this Sunday ksrush. He said exactly what voevoda said:

voevoda 6 years, 4 months ago

I'm only repeating what appeared in the LJW article, ksrush. So if you think they got it wrong, take it up with them, not with me.

Katara 6 years, 4 months ago

Cain originally said he was pro-life but felt there should be exceptions for rape, incest & life of the mother.

Then he said he was pro-life but he didn't believe it was up to the government to make the decision for people.

Now he says he is pro-life, no exceptions & life begins at conception.

ferrislives 6 years, 4 months ago

He's sounding more like Romney every day. Does anyone have an opinion on things and stick to them without pandering to whomever they're talking to at the time (regardless of party affiliation)? I like what Cain has to say; it's refreshing to hear the no-holds-barred truth. But he's just not ready to be President. He used to say things to the point, and now he's falling to the dark side of the GOP. He needs to remember what made him popular in the first place.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

American voters don't want politicians that tell the truth without pandering.

They want politicians that promise them the moon.

That's the only explanation for why we keep electing ones who do that.

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