The Cain-train has hit a series of snags in its presidential aspirations and they can be laid at the foot of the candidate himself. Herman Cain, a self-made African-American businessman, relatively new to politics, is learning the hard way how polished you have to be to appear presidential to the nation. More specifically, the GOP electorate.
In recent months Cain has come out of nowhere to shock the GOP establishment and the campaigns of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Mitt Romney in particular. Winning an upset in the Florida Straw Poll he catapulted into the lead in new polls and appeared not to slow. In the New Hampshire economic forum sponsored by Bloomberg Cain made a simple and decent defense of his 9-9-9 plan, his claim to fame in the primary. But in the GOP debate on Tuesday night in Nevada, Cain made two mistakes. And they were big.
The segment of voters Cain has most heavily courted have been conservatives, more specifically social conservatives. His debate performance on Tuesday night derailed that train. Asked whether he opposed abortion in cases of race and incest, Cain hedged. He said it was not in the president’s authority to advance a position on abortion. Even worse, he used the words “pro-choice” to describe his position. Uh-oh, I think somebody just made a boo-boo. Cain’s campaign has been in damage control mode for the past few days but when your candidate cannot even come out with a coherent statement about what he meant after the fact it is kind of hard to do damage control. And this has Republicans, conservatives especially, asking whether Cain really is ready to be president?
Cain has appeal to conservatives. He is outside the system and charismatic and he can tell people what they want to here. But his inexperience has begun to pile up. Cain got in trouble twice early in the campaign (before he surged) on comments he made that may have suggested religious intolerance. But it is his slate of mistakes starting in the last week that may make conservatives have second thoughts about him. On Sunday, on the NBC show “Meet the Press,” Herman Cain made a horrible defense of his 9-9-9 plan. And after that defense he rolled out a plan that would make the plan 9-0-9 on certain individuals. For a candidate that has made his message for economic prosperity based on simplicity his plans are getting more complicated. This brings us to the second mistake Cain made on Tuesday at the debate.
When asked what Cain thought of the Israeli-Palestian prisoner swap (one long-time held Israeli soldier for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners) Cain said he would consider doing something similar with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. And again, when asked a question about Afghanistan Cain recited yet again the same old line of “I will listen to my generals.” That is great and all, but Republicans traditionally don’t select a nominee whose foreign policy positions are based on listening to generals and negotiating with terrorists (which is not say Israel wanted to but their position is quite different then the US’s).
Prior and current gaffes and lack of policy positions beyond 9-9-9 (or 9-0-9 for some individuals) appears likely to de-rail the Cain-train. And it appears likely to help one candidate in particular. Texas Governor Rick Perry has been out of the media spotlight lately. That is just fine with his campaign it appears. Perry came into the campaign riding high in the polls and since has dropped like a rock. But other than Herman Cain, his rivals have not moved in the polls. This suggests that conservatives who once liked Perry have moved to Cain but can just as easily move back to Perry or another candidate (perhaps Gingrich).
Perry has three advantages that neither Cain, Romney, or Gingrich (the three remaining viable candidates in my opinion) cannot match. The first is Perry’s campaign is sitting on over $15 million in cash. And with a lull in the debate season that means airwaves will be filled with Perry ads. If one follows or looks up former Texas gubernatorial races Perry’s campaigns have run effective ads. Second, Perry’s staff is experienced and has seen the ups and downs of campaigns. While Romney’s staff might come close in experience they do not know their candidate as well, nor are as experienced as Perry’s (let-alone as intact). Third, Perry easily has room to grow his support. Cain’s surge in the polls has corresponded with Perry’s sudden drop. If voters turn away from Cain, they are very likely to come back to Perry if on nothing else but ideology.
Furthermore, Perry’s campaign has steadily been bringing out policy positions and plans in succession. That is what many criticized the Texan Governor on lacking during his entry into the primary (along with weak debate performances). Less than two weeks ago the Governor proposed an energy plan calling for the elimination of the EPA and drilling and exploiting the US’s vast natural resources. And next week his campaign will unveil his new ideas for a flat tax. Following that are hints of positions on Afghanistan.
Now this does not mean Perry is assured to be the “Comeback kid.” The Governor still has many weaknesses to be exploited such as his stance on immigration in Texas, his weak debate performances and his lack of policy knowledge (though the break in debates should help). But Perry has always had unique advantages none of the candidates can match and now it is bolstered by a load of cash right in the middle of a lull in the debate season. That has got to mean something.
The one thing that is noticeable about Cain’s rise is how little scrutiny he has gotten from the media. Conservative blogs, and left and right pundits, have generally left his gaffes alone. But now that he has steadily led in the polls (most polls that is) for almost two weeks he is being brought into the spotlight. And much as conservatives and Republicans may like him personally they are sure to notice his mistakes and start to make judgements on his fitness to lead this country, let alone be the party’s standbearer. And that leaves an opening for Perry to exploit.