Friday, October 7, 2011

Could Herman Cain be President?

Herman Cain

In watching the process for nomination for the GOP presidential candidacy play out, an interesting question emerges - could Herman Cain really have a chance to run against Barack Obama for the highest office in the land?

Put aside, for a minute the inanities of some of Cain's statements ('I'm blacker than Barack Obama'; Two-thirds of blacks have been brainwashed', the foolish 'pledge' not to raise taxes under any circumstances, etc.), he does have a compelling narrative and he has a platform that goes beyond the banal talking points of the other candidates. Herman Cain is not simply regurgitating TEA party angst riddled rhetoric. Nor is he ladling out fear laded pablum. Argue with his gimmicky 9-9-9 economic strategy all you want, its simple (or simplistic), its memorable and he explains it without alienating people.

Cain appears to be succeeding where African-American Republicans have failed in the past - when it comes to a presidential run. He has made himself attractive to and is being taken seriously (by various degrees)by that has grown less and less diverse and is making fewer and fewer attempts at becoming so.

Michael Steele
Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele had the same opportunity, but personal and political gaffes and in inability (or unwillingness) to find and press the leadership reset button, drove him to the pundits chair. Alan Keyes, a perennial black GOP presidential candidate, was arguably TEA party long before TEA party was 'cool'. Keyes was a more articulate extreme, fundamentalist, arch-conservative than Michelle Bachmann. But in an era  when being Republican simply meant having a different philosophy of governance, Alan Keyes was a curiosity, an oddity, usually written off before the race began. Ironically, now, when Keyes could be considered en vogue, his views are the 'mainstream' views of the party - he's no longer special.

Cain also has something else going for him - he's never been elected to public office. He's an extremely successful businessman, the former CEO of 'Godfather's Pizza'. He's used to being decisive. He can credibly articulate the conservative ideology regarding the economy. If you say he'd be weak on foreign affairs going into office, that's equally true of every other president the past 60 years with the exception of Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush. He appears strong and independent. And, again arguably - he looks 'presidential' (I can never really understand what that means).

Alan Keyes
Cain's problem? He's never held elective office. To some that may be a plus. But I think ultimately that will keep him from getting the GOP nomination. Cain's business perspective, without electoral portfolio, is what I think will cause the establishment GOP from really embracing him. At the end of the day, the type of negotiating skills necessary for running for or serving in office are nuanced but significant. There are political consequences to nearly every decision. The number of 'orders' and 'directives' you can give are limited. And fortunately (or unfortunately for a few) both the 'maverick' and 'rogue' tags have lost their appeal.

Without political portfolio, Cain would, with the nomination, have to become a politician. And should he win he would have to be one on day one. I don't think the Republican establishment has the confidence that he would be able to master that learning curve. It can be an incredibly difficult thing for someone whose used to being 'in charge' to find out how much he (or she) is not in charge. President Truman, just prior leaving office said of Dwight Eisenhower, 'Poor Ike. He'll start giving orders like he did in the Army and not a damn thing will happen.'

What's heartening about the prospects of a Cain presidential run is I don't think race is as much a factor as many of us might reflexively think. It's pretty ironic. Because if its true that the GOP has come to a point where they can seriously imagine a black man being their standard bearer - the credit goes to Barack Obama!

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