Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Herman Cain has led an improbable life. An African American born in the segregated south as the son of a chauffeur and cleaning lady, Cain managed to a achieve bachelors degree in mathematics and a graduate degree in computer science, become the CEO of a restaurant chain, host a popular show on the country’s largest talk radio station, and for a brief period of time become the front runner for the Republican nomination for President.
Added to his degree of difficulty is that Cain isn’t even supposed to be alive, as doctors once have him less than a 30% chance to live as he battled Stage IV colon and liver cancer. It doesn’t take a degree in mathematics to understand the numerous ways Cain has defied the laws of probability.
Roughly a year ago as talk of a Cain presidential run was becoming serious, I asked a friend of his what he was really looking for from a Presidential run. Certainly he didn’t think he could win, did he?
She told me that he generally didn’t do things he didn’t think he could accomplish, but with the long odds of the race, he would be happy if he could influence the debate, and inject ideas that could be co-opted by the eventual nominee. She emphasized that was her assessment, and not the words of the candidate. I found, and still find, her reasoning plausible.
Cain managed to become the front runner with his 9-9-9 plan. The idea was to replace the tax code with a flatter, simpler system. It also includes eliminating many current taxes including the current FICA withholding tax in favor of a national sales tax. While none of the other Republican candidates has embraced the 9-9-9 plan, Cain did manage to make comprehensive tax reform a central issue in not only the 2012 campaign, but in the current budget and revenue battles within Congress.
Along the way, Cain has developed a following of core supporters who, despite recent issues, are extremely loyal and supportive to Cain. Before his ascendency in the polls, this core group had Cain leading in the “positive intensity” category. This measures how strongly supporters feel about a candidate. Those in the punditry class understand this measure has special significance.
The positive intensity candidate has supporters that do not receive criticism of their candidate well, and see any revelation of flaws as a personal attack on the candidate and on themselves. They often respond to any critical analysis with swift and vocal backlash, and are prone to cloak themselves in victimhood as a defense mechanism. And so it has been with Cain’s supports since revelations began to surface about Cain’s issues with women from his past.
Fair or not, any serious discussion of a Cain candidacy now begins and ends with the growing list of women who claim various forms of sexual indiscretion from Cain. While most allegations remain unproven, the fact that the National Restaurant Association paid settlements to two women who worked for Cain is not in dispute. Furthermore, the fact that Cain knew about these but did not choose to get well in front of this information so he could control and mitigate the damage in advance demonstrates the political naiveté with which a Cain presidency would greet Washington.
And therein lies the biggest problem with a potential President Cain. His campaign has not been doomed because of the litany of women lining up to make claims against him. This is but a reason for those with serious concerns about his abilities to quietly climb off of a bandwagon. Rather, Cain has proven that his learning curve would be too steep, that too much on the job training would be required of a President Cain.
Cain has routinely flubbed questions on foreign policy, demonstrating not only a complete lack of knowledge but also a lack on intellectual curiosity on the subject. He says that he will have advisors to handle these issues for him. CEO’s after all, are judged by those they hire and how those execute.
Yet Cain’s chief advisor is Mark Block, a man who paid an ethics fine and was banned from political activity in his home state of Wisconsin for three years. Block is also the man that has had Cain spending his limited time on the road in states such as Alabama, Wisconsin, and most recently Ohio. Ohio’s primary is on June 12th. Iowa’s caucus, where Cain resonates with the state’s social conservative base but Cain has spent little personal time, is on January 3rd.
Cain told a conference call of supporters earlier this week that his campaign will be re-assessed, with him consulting his family and gauging the toll the personal charges are taking on him. He also needs to assess the effect his campaign is now having on his core supporters, and the Republican Party as a whole.
Those with “positive intensity” are now lashing out at anyone who dares to point out the obvious with respect to Cain’s lack of viability. They are now in full victimhood mentality, blaming “the establishment” for Cain’s downfall, with Cain’s own projections feeding this frenzy. The issues he wanted to influence are now at risk from his supporters wanting to take their footballs and go home rather than to move to a viable campaign.
In his reassessment, Cain must first take responsibility for his actions and his inactions. As the CEO of the Herman Cain campaign, the responsibility of the state of affairs lies solely with the candidate. As does the responsibility to do the right thing.
Cain is now hurting the causes that he has spent a lifetime trying to help. There are many ways in which he may continue to work toward his political goals. Continuing as a Presidential candidate should not be one of them.