The dismal political environment in the United States can bring with it some changes that in previous election cycles would’ve been outright impossible. The two major parties have created such an expectation of petty political games, corruption, incompetence, and a laundry list of other negatives that they have brought this nation closer to the brink of destruction than at any time since the Civil War. This has fed a thirst in the American electorate for something different, an outsider, anything but politics as usual. Don’t believe me? How in the world do you think President Obama, the least experienced major party Presidential candidate in history, managed to take down both the Clinton political machine and a noted Senator with decades of experience in Washington? He was portrayed as something different (at the time), and that seemed to be enough.
The GOP has now begun their quest to determine who will oppose Obama next November, and Herman Cain, the former restaurant CEO, has rocketed to the top of the polls in recent weeks. Cain has checked almost none of the previously required boxes to becoming a major Presidential candidate. No Ivy League education (though he does maintain college degrees) like the elite ruling class insist is necessary, no experience in elected office of any kind, no political machine or strong network of supporters and get-out-the-vote volunteers, and nearly no money. Herman Cain has put in his own leg-work. He worked in the private sector his entire life, far away from the cesspool of Washington. Herman Cain hasn’t dumped millions of dollars in ads in the critical, momentum-building early caucus/primary states. Instead, Cain has gone door-to-door, tracking down voters and talking about their concerns, and speaking to groups to spread his message everyday. Herman Cain owes his rise to nobody but himself, and his followers, because their hasn’t been a large donors and noted political figures coming to his side. The best part about the Cain campaign is that Herman Cain has done all of this through hard work, and he is being rewarded for his grassroots-building efforts.
Unfortunately, the weakest part of the Herman Cain campaign is also Herman Cain. Everything that has made his rise to political notoriety so genuine and a breath of fresh air, is also a potential weakness in todays ruthless campaign environment where the supposedly impartial media is a willing accomplice to character assassination. Cain does not have the litany of advisors, public relations contacts and spin doctors, donors, ad firms, or the state networks that the other candidates have and will use against him. Cain’s no-nonsense, plain speaking, bold solutions style have been perhaps THE primary reason he has vaulted to the front of the GOP Presidential pack. The test is now that he is here. This has already been an ugly Republican primary season, with the candidates perfectly content to maliciously attack each other and what the other candidates MIGHT do, instead of concentrating on President Obama and what he HAS done. Cain (and Newt Gingrich), and the only candidates to campaign on issues, ideas, and have attempted (at least for the most part) to stay outside and above the political sucker-punches that have been thrown by everyone else in the campaign. He should receive great credit for this, since in poll after poll, American voters profess that they are disgusted with politics as usual, right? We will see.
The last debate marked a change in the behavior of the Republican candidates. While Cain continued making a push for his 9-9-9 plan and tried to contrast himself with the policies of Obama, Cain also had to deal with rounds of attacks from the candidates that often mocked his 9-9-9 plan. Though it may not be a positive hallmark of the modern American system, the truth is that sophomoric jokes like Gov. John Huntsman’s “I thought it was the price of a pizza” remark, are a reality for any prominent candidate, and it will get worse, MUCH worse, than it has been thus far for Cain.
Cain, for all his positives, needs to add the polish and substantive, detailed message of the other professional politicians. 9-9-9, while bold and different, will not carry him to the White House. He has to be able to grasp specifics on a wide-range of policy issues, before the label of “inexperienced”, or “amateur” gets attached to his campaign. The good news is that Cain has made great progress on these fronts in recent months. The bad news is that time is not on his side.
My GOP primary vote remains more or less undecided at present, so I am not writing this as an endorsement or rejection of Cain. I have been impressed with the man himself, and win or lose, Herman Cain deserves a lot of credit for being a one-man successful campaign. This would have been thought impossible just a few weeks ago, but Cain has pulled himself up by his own efforts, with very little help from anyone else. But, now the hard part starts for an outsider like Cain. The spotlight, and microscope, has turned to him. The next challenge is whether or not he can deliver.