What ever happened to the old adage that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line?
Well, let’s just say so far Republicans have been very reluctant to fall in line with Governor Mitt Romney. For the past few months, GOP voters have been searching, in fact begging, in the case of Gov. Chris Christie, for an alternative to Gov. Romney.
Five months ago, Donald Trump led the pack of Republican presidential candidates. Two months ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann surged in the polls by virtue of her Iowa straw poll victory. Last month, Gov. Rick Perry was their man until they saw his lackluster debate performances. Then their fascination with Gov. Christie had to end when he decided to stay out of the fray.
But out of nowhere, Herman Cain bursts onto the scene with his shocking victory in the Florida straw poll. A recent Gallup poll shows Cain at 18%, two points ahead of Perry and a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney who is at 20%. But do not believe the hype just yet, he could very well be a two-week wonder. To his credit, his campaign message, positioning strategy and steady debate performances have enabled him to gain more traction with conservative voters.
There is a growing anti-Washington, anti-establishment group of voters within the Republican base and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has been positioning himself as the businessman that he truly is. A Washington outsider that is not beholden to the party establishment unlike the other “career politicians.” In the debate on Oct 11 for example, in response to the possibility that his 9-9-9 plan would not pass through Congress, Cain states, “therein lies the difference between me, the non-politician, and all of the politicians…They want to pass what they think they can get passed rather than what we need, which is a bold solution.”
In all the debates so far, Herman Cain has shown great message discipline on his economic plan. There is no Republican presidential candidate that has a simpler and easier to understand economic plan than Cain does. Last month, Governor Romney released a 160-page economic plan that most voters probably will not read. Meanwhile, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Republican voter that has not at least heard of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan: a 9% business flat tax, 9% individual flat tax and 9% national sales tax.
In fact, in the last Republican presidential debate, the plan was the focus of discussion just as Herman Cain was the center of attention both literally and figuratively. He was seated center stage in between Governors Romney and Perry. This was an important symbolic seating arrangement for him because it visually elevated him from being an afterthought in previous debates to a legitimate top-tier candidate. The debate was an opportunity for him to prove to voters than he can stand toe-to-toe with the governors at his side and it did not take long before the full-throttle debate on economic policy kicked into full gear.
Cain’s economic plan was roundly criticized by all the candidates. Gov. John Huntsman thought 9-9-9 sounded like the price of a pizza. Rep. Michele Bachmann, in an allusion to 666, said the devil is in the details of the 9-9-9 plan if you turn it upside down. Mitt Romney always seemed to show a dismissive smile every time 9-9-9 was mentioned. Even with all these criticisms, Herman Cain seemed indefatigable for the most part. He consistently stayed on his message of being the only businessman with a simple, yet magical plan to boost economic growth.
Nevertheless, some of his recent gaffes make one wonder if he is truly ready for primetime. In response to a question in a Wall Street Journal interview about the Wall Street protesters, “don’t blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks…If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself,” Cain said. To blame the unemployed for their state of joblessness in any context suggests a certain carelessness and lack of introspection.
In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday in May, Cain did not seem to understand the idea of Palestinian “right of return.” After a few seconds of deafening silence, he then said “that’s something that should be negotiated.” This reveals a lack of knowledge on important issues which makes him look small and unfit to lead.
Not only that, he does not even know what neoconservative means. Not that that is the most important thing to know, but still. He seems to be pro-life and pro-choice at the same time.
Just as important, for the past few weeks, his campaign travels have been combined with his book tour. This needs to change if he wants to be taken more seriously. Running for president cannot be a part-time job. If he really wants to solidify his new found support, he should be focused on putting together a strong campaign organization in Iowa with an army of activists and volunteers reaching out to voters, handing out yard signs and campaign pamphlets.
He ought to be walking the streets of Iowa, shaking hands and kissing babies. If he begins to put together a strong campaign presence in early primary states, starts to speak earnestly about the structural problems the country faces, and shows a solid grasp of foreign policy issues, then maybe, just maybe he will become a legitimate contender.
But if not, he will be as Sarah Palin puts it: a flavor of the week.