Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Cain Train Wreck

When Herman Cain won the Florida Straw Poll, I updated my Facebook status to read: “Herman Cain has officially peaked.” Over the next few weeks, Cain rose to frontrunner status and it appeared that I had grossly miscalculated Cain’s appeal. Despite Cain’s recent surge, I stand by my initial statement. Ever since his Florida victory, Cain has performed dismally as a candidate. He has made a series of gaffes and missteps that should give serious pause to every conservative considering casting their vote for Mr. Cain.

One week after winning in Florida, Cain found himself rising quickly in almost every opinion poll. It appeared that his rising numbers were coming at the expense of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose poor debate performances had disappointed many conservatives who had viewed him as the GOP’s best hope to unite Tea Party activists and establishment conservatives.

On October 1st, those intrepid reporters at the Washington Post decided that an old rock at the Perry family hunting ground that once had a racially insensitive name etched on it was front page news. It was a typical hit piece from a typical left-wing media outlet. But, when Cain was asked about the matter, he decided to play the race card--seemingly out of instinct.

"Since Gov. Perry has been going there for years to hunt, I think that it shows a lack of sensitivity for a long time of not taking that word off of that rock and renaming the place,”
he told ABC's This Week.

Yes, it was painted over," he said. "But how long ago was it painted over? So I'm still saying that it is a sign of insensitivity."

Time after time over the last three years conservatives have been demonized with accusations of racism by defenders of President Obama. We don’t like it. For Cain to adopt this tactic with such ease, when there was no evidence of any racial insensitivity on Perry’s part, was a sign that Cain shared the reflexive, race based world view that has outraged conservatives for decades.

But little was said by conservatives concerning Cain’s attack. This was disheartening but understandable given that the Tea Party’s honeymoon phase with Cain had just begun.

A few days later in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Cain said this in response to a question about the Occupy Wall Street protesters who had recently converged in Zuccotti Park.

"Don't blame Wall Street. Don't blame the big banks. If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself. It is not someone's fault if they succeeded, it is someone's fault if they failed.”

Still enjoying the honeymoon, conservatives did not bat an eye at this boneheaded and insensitive statement. Despite the fact that Cain had just handed an incredible piece of general election fodder to the Obama campaign. But, conservatives defended the statement, either as being mostly true or as an example of Cain’s refreshing propensity not to mince words as more polished politicians so often do.

In his first debate as a top tier candidate, Cain was put on the defensive concerning his 9-9-9 economic plan. The plan itself is undeniably an improvement over the status quo. But Cain seemed incapable of defending it against the barrage of attacks and downright misrepresentations launched by his fellow candidates. Cain drifted into a confused non-defense of the plan citing “apples and oranges” instead of numbers and failed to illustrate the simplicity that he had previously bragged about as 9-9-9’s most attractive feature.

Given the fact that 9-9-9 is the centerpiece--and really the sole talking point—of the Cain campaign, his inability to defend it should have once again caused conservatives to reassess their consideration of Cain as the best candidate to face Barack Obama. They did not. Cain’s meteoric rise in the polls continued.

He performed a similarly confusing dance around the abortion issue in an interview a little more than a week later week, waffling horribly on when he would support exceptions to his pro-life stance in a way that would make Mitt Romney blush.

Next came the bizarre commercial starring a cigarette puffing Cain campaign advisor and ending with a bizarre profile of a smiling Cain, set to patriotic music that sounded as though it was recorded in the early 1980’s. While the video went viral, the video made Cain’s campaign look amateurish and weird.

Fast forward to the last few days. The recent sex scandal plaguing Cain may be an irrelevant smear leaked by a political nemesis. But, despite having ten days notice that Politico was going to run with the story Cain appeared to have no idea how to handle it when it broke.

The man, who had built his campaign on not being a typical politician, repeatedly evaded the question exactly the way a typical politician would when asked about the matter. His inconsistent answers have given the appearance of a cover up which is almost always worse than the actual crime in the political world.

Then, when speaking at the National Press Club about this scandal, Cain inexplicably burst into song. A move that can only be described as clownish for someone running for the nation’s highest office and undeniably a bizarre spectacle, far outside of the realm of what most Americans consider to be “presidential” behavior.

Finally, on Tuesday’s edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, panelist Charles Krauthammer decided to test Cain. Krauthammer lobbed a softball at Cain asking him if he thought the sexual harassment charges were racially motivated.

Cain took the bait and once again played the race card. He played it unabashedly and with no regard for the facts.

“I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it,”
Cain answered.

It’s understandable that after years of having the race card played against us, conservatives would want to give the left a taste of its own medicine. But, despite this urge, Cain’s answer makes us all look like hypocrites and needs to be roundly condemned. Conservatives should not resort to Democratic tactics and this is one of the most egregious and maddening. An African American running for president must not use race as a crutch when attacked. It is a divisive and usually dishonest way of slandering one’s opponents. Shockingly, Barack Obama was quite disciplined in his refusal to cite racism as a factor when asked about attacks leveled against him in 2008. Cain could learn a thing or two from Obama’s successful campaign in which he appeared “post-racial”—a trait that was very appealing to Independent voters.

Herman Cain is a fascinating and likeable guy. He is certainly not a politician and yes, his popularity among the most conservative members of the Republican base completely debunks the myth of a racially insensitive GOP that has been a left wing narrative for so long.

But these are lousy reasons to support a presidential candidate. At this point, Cain’s lack of political polish is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It will almost certainly be a problem if Cain is faced with the unrelenting attacks of a desperate Obama machine next year.

After a month of gaffes and mistakes, it’s time for conservatives to jump off the Cain Train.

-Dan Joseph

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