Yesterday Was The High Water Mark For Herman Cain
Was last night’s Bloomberg debate the beginning of the end for Cain?
As I’ve said before, Cain was playing with house money on his way up. His rise was fueled mainly by his personality (and it’s very attractive) more than any great policy positions or record. In fact, it was his lack of those very things (or at least lack of focus on what little he has of them) that made him so likable.
In the Florida debate which spurred his recent rise, he was an outsider, he was commenting on the debate and the race for the nomination more than he was a part of it. He could talk about his 9-9-9 plan and make his lack of political experience a bonus by force of his engaging personality. He was also not a major player time wise. He simply dropped in a few well delivered lines and faded away while the “hammer Perry” crew went back to work.
After that performance (and it was good, I take nothing away from Cain here) and his upset win in the Florida straw poll, Cain went into last night’s debate in a very different position. Literally. He was no longer out on the wings but was seated, by virtue of his new poll standing, next to long time front runner Mitt Romney.
A center stage spot meant more air-time and made his top tier standing made him a target for attacks from lesser lights. As he had before when he gain some momentum, Cain didn’t fare as well as the main attraction as he does when playing a smaller, supporting role.
First off, his likable personality frayed a bit last night. He was clearly annoyed with Jon Huntsman’s early dig that he thought 9-9-9 “was the price of a pizza”. Cain’s tight smile was reminiscent of Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents dinner. Neither business leader was used to be mocked like that and it showed.
But that was just a minor blip that hinted at more to come.
Cain’s constant recitation of “9-9-9” was more suited to an outsider trying to get attention than someone who clearly has the attention of voters. We know he has a plan, now sell it and most importantly…defend it.
Rick Santorum has used his limited time in these debates to attack other candidates. It’s a reasonable strategy for a guy going nowhere and desperate to get attention. Last night he turned his attention to Cain.
And we need to do that with the agenda that I outlined, which, unlike Herman’s plan, which could not pass, because no — how many people here are for a sales tax in New Hampshire? Raise your hand.
There you go, Herman. That’s how many votes you’ll get in New Hampshire.
We’re not going to give the federal government, Nancy Pelosi, a new pipeline, a 9 percent sales tax for consumers to get hammered by the federal government.
How many people believe that we’ll keep the income tax at 9 percent? Anybody?
No hands went up either time.
It was a simple and direct attack on Cain’s only policy message and Rick Santorum(!) blew it up.
Now a single shot, no matter how on target, from an also ran like Santorum, isn’t going to send Cain back to the minor leagues but you can see how Romney or Perry could go after Cain if they really want to. At this point, neither of them want to for different reasons but the weakness was exposed. You can be we’ll also start seeing a lot more news coverage, including in conservative media and blogs, about what 9-9-9 would really mean and it’s not likely to help Cain.
Cain also took a self-inflicted hit when he was asked to name a Federal Reserve chair he thought was most successful and would serve as a model for his choice to lead the central bank, he went with…Alan Greenspan.
That was the wrong answer.
Greenspan is pretty much Public Enemy Number 2 for the tea party and conservative economic crowd (current Fed chair Ben Bernanke is Number 1) for his low interest rate policies which many say contributed to the housing bubble and the subsequent collapse of the finance secttor.
How bad an answer was it? Ron Paul got to respond and actually came up with the right answer while hitting Cain for his.
…But if I had to name one person that did a little bit of good, that was Paul Volcker. He at least knew how to end — or help, you know, end the inflation.
But, of course, with my position that I don’t think highly of the Federal Reserve, I think we should have sound money and we shouldn’t have somebody deciding what the interest rate should be and how much money supply we should have, I mean, nobody satisfies me.
But certainly, Alan Greenspan has ushered in the biggest bubble. And what did we do? We’ve continued the same thing, doing the same thing. We think the inflation under Alan Greenspan was bad so we’re trying to solve the problem by inflating even further. So Bernanke compounds the problem. He’s inflating twice as fast as — as Greenspan was.
When Ron Paul’s tired old anti-Fed shtick scores a point against you, you’ve really messed up.
Right now Cain is a victim of his own success. The very qualities that got him this far, his lack of political experience, reliance on personality and focus on a single policy position are going to bite him when the attention is really focused on him.
He won’t crash back to Earth as quickly as he rose for a couple of reasons.
First, he wasn’t awful last night. It’s just that you can start to see how opponents will go about picking him apart. They won’t have to at first and right now, no one of any stature is sufficiently motivated to take Cain on. But increased media attention on him and his plan will do some of the work for them.
Second, no one actually saw the debate last night.
And finally, conservatives are frustrated with the lack of a legitimate conservative option in the campaign. Baring a comeback that is starting to verge on miraculous by Perry, people will cling to Cain as long as they reasonably can before giving into the reality that Mitt is going to be the nominee.
Think of the 2012 GOP in comparison to the Democrats in 2004…liberals loved Howard Dean (Cain) but eventually went with the safer John Kerry (Romney). It’s depressing to think that given the opportunity before us with a weakened Obama and a discredited Democratic party we’re going to run Mitt Romney but here we are.
One added thought: Cain says one advantage of his national sales tax plan is that people can save money by buying used goods since the tax only applies to new products. Forget for a moment there are some products you can’t buy used, do Americans really want to hear that? Isn’t the idea that a new system or a reform of the current scheme should be giving people more money to spend on whatever they want?
It reminds me of Sue Lowden who was running for the GOP nomination in Nevada to run against Harry Reid. She suggested we might be able to return to a time when doctors accepted barter items like chickens as payment. It was not a winning idea and she eventually lost to an even worse candidate, Sharon Angle.