Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 17, 2011 at 05:33:01 PM EST
A Frank Luntz-conducted focus group which declared Herman Cain the overwhelming victor in the first Republican Party presidential debate had conservative radio talk-show host Michael Medved claiming that it 'provides potent counter-evidence to the tired Democratic charge that conservatives ... dislike Obama primarily because he's African-American.'

Political gadfly Alan Keyes, and Herman Cain, who appears to be emerging as the latest African American "It Guy" of the conservative movement, have a fair amount in common. They are both extremely conservative; anti-same-sex marriage and virulently anti-abortion. They both hosted radio programs. They both have serious communications chops; just as Keyes could win over a live audience of conservatives with a quiver full of sharp rhetorical flourishes, one liners and clever comebacks, Cain appears to have mastered some of the same skills.

And, if Cain does what many expect he will do sometime before the end of the month, they both will have been declared candidates for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. However, just as Keyes could never win his Party's nomination, Cain also doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning the GOP presidential nomination.

And if Cain does announce a bid for the presidency you can bet the farm that no one will ever ask him for his birth certificate!

Despite the impossibility of his task, it might serve the GOP well to keep him around. Some observers appear to think that the very presence of a black conservative sharing the stage with his white colleagues, will shatter the myth that many in the GOP hate President Barack Obama because he is black.

The coming of Cain

At the recent Republican presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina, sponsored by the Fox News Channel, Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, did so well that a focus group run by veteran conservative pollster, messaging maven and Fox News analyst Frank Luntz, found that Cain was the runaway winner.

He didn't dazzle the group with his expertise on the issues. Rather, he appeared to be the outsider's outsider, the way beyond the beltway guy. When Fox News' Chris Wallace asked him about his lack of elective office experience, Cain responded with what might have been the best salvo of the night: "I'm proud of the fact that I haven't held public office before. Most of the people that are in elected office in Washington DC, they have held public office before. How's that workin' for you? We have a mess. How about sending a problem-solver to the White House?"

According to the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, "The crowd of roughly 30 unanimously said that ... Cain won the debate. Only one of them went into the evening supporting Cain. A clear majority -- citing his 'straight talk' on the economy and his capacity to criticize the president -- said they would now support his presidential campaign."

"I have never had this kind of reaction until tonight,'' said Luntz.
"Something very special happened this evening."

The fact that Cain was perceived to have outperformed such veteran politicians as Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Tim Pawlenty was surprising to say the least.

The victory bore financial fruit according to Fox News' Juan Williams, a moderator at the debate. Williams recently noted that "traffic and contributions to Cain's website have increased sharply in the days since the debate."

Although it's silly to speculate as to what might make someone declare himself a candidate for his party's presidential nomination, Cain's performance may have convinced him that he can run with the big dogs - or at least some of them. It is highly likely that within the next week or so, Cain, who launched a presidential exploratory committee earlier this year, will announce his intention to throw his hat into the ring.

According to an email sent after the debate, Cain told his supporters to circle May 21 on their calendars. (Coincidentally, that is the same date that Christian conservative radio station owner Harold Camping has said would usher in The Rapture?)

"After coming out as the clear victor of the first Republican presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina, ... Cain has come closer to making a final decision regarding a bid for the White House," the email said. "He will announce this decision at a free, public rally in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia."

Earlier this year, Cain reportedly wowed them at a Tea Party Patriot meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, where he won a presidential straw poll.

What do we know about Cain? According to the Associated Press, "Apart from a failed 2004 run for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, Cain hasn't sought election to public office. Instead, he held a series of high-profile business positions that culminated with part ownership of the Godfather's Pizza restaurants. He left the company in 1996 and among other positions has worked as host of a radio program in Atlanta, where he espoused his views against abortion and in support of a strong national defense, a smaller government and a return to the gold standard."

Cain and Keyes

Of course there are differences between Keyes and Cain. Keyes was always running for some political office or another: He ran for the presidency in 1996, 2000 and 2008, and he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992 and 2004. Cain, on the other hand, is a relative novice at electoral politics, having run for office that one time in Georgia.

Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved recently argued that to compare Cain to Keyes was a disservice to Cain. Medved's Daily Beast piece, titled "Herman Cain: The Pizza Man Delivers" ( cain-delivers-at-first-republican-debate/?cid=hp:beastoriginalsC2 #),
cited Cain's vast corporate experience, having held "top executive positions at Pillsbury, Burger King, and Godfather Pizza.... [while] Keyes could point only to minor diplomatic appointments and failed campaigns, with no more executive experience than Barack Obama."

Conservatives weren't dissing Keyes back in the day when he was their Great Black White Hope!

Cain, Medved wrote, has a "proven head for numbers (he holds a mathematics degree from Morehouse College and a master's in computer science from Purdue) [which] make[s] him a plausible candidate at a time of economic stress and looming fiscal catastrophe."

Medved completed his  take down of the once-admired Alan Keyes, Medved pointed out that to Cain's "followers," he is seen as "the Godfather of Common Sense"; while "the phrases 'common sense' and 'Alan Keyes' have never appeared together in the same sentence."

But here's Medved's money thought: While recognizing that Cain couldn't possibly win the Party's nomination, he insisted that he "could well play a significant role in building a stronger GOP for 2012 and beyond."

Cain's debate victory "provides potent counter-evidence to the tired Democratic charge that conservatives - particularly Southern conservatives - dislike Obama primarily because he's African-American."

Thirty folks in a room in South Caroline choose Cain and that is supposed to dispel the notion that the Republican Party is an overwhelmingly white Party?

The presence of Cain on the stage and Williams as a panelist reminded me of Chris Rock's great line while covering the 2008 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia for Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" program: "I am the only Black person here. Again."

... and it was not so glaringly obvious that Cain won.  In the coverage after, there was a room of people who almost unanimously claimed that they had not been Cain supporters before, but all thought Cain had won the debate.  As I recall, there was nobody who thought another candidate had won and there was nobody who spoke up in support of a candidate who wasn't there.  This was in spite of the fact that Ron Paul seemed to have a very noisy delegation of supporters during the debate.  

The Fox programming after the debate seemed ... well, staged. And I wondered why.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Tue May 17, 2011 at 06:45:24 PM EST

However I will keep an eye out for Cain to see what he does.

by Nightgaunt on Sun May 22, 2011 at 05:01:58 PM EST

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