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The Herman Cain Boomlet

Dave Weigel calls Herman Cain’s showing in a new poll “remarkable.”

The numbers from Gallup:

gallupmay252011

Weigel notes:

Cain has come out of the gate making knowledge blunders (not knowing what the “right of return” is, for example), getting generally dismissive coverage. There is no team of reporters covering his every move on the trail, as there is for Huntsman. There’s no massive scrum outside his appearances, as there is for Pawlenty. And yet he’s outpolling Pawlenty.

I think that answer here is pretty simple:  Cain is the flavor of the month (week?).  There is a clear undercurrent of discontent amongst Republican voters and it would appear to be the case that some number of them are casting about for a candidate.  I think this fact explains the Trump boomlet (at least in part—much of that was also name recognition), as well as the blip over Thaddeus McCotter (I actually had a friend e-mail me to ask me what I thought of McCotter as a candidate as he is otherwise unhappy with the field).

Cain is the latest new(ish) face on the scene, and so I am not surprised that he is getting a bit of a look at the moment.  However, as I told another friend on Facebook the other day:  this is the beginning of Cain’s 15 minutes of political fame and I will be mildly surprised if he is on the ballot in New Hampshire.

The real story of these numbers, it seems to me, is that T-Paw finds himself with only 6% and Huntsman a meager 2%.  Both are considered by much of the punditocracy as “serious” candidates, but those are far from serious numbers.

And yes, all “but it is early” caveats apply.

More on Cain’s numbers from the LAT‘s Politics Now:  Is Cain able? Herman Cain scores in latest presidential poll.

Two side thoughts:

1. I find it interesting that he is a talk show host, as it seems that partisan political punditry has become accepted as a major road for GOP hopefuls (e.g., Gingrich, Palin, Santorum, Huckabee).  I would note that I think that this a problem for the party, as some of the least responsible people in public discourse at the moment, both intellectually and rhetorically, are talk show hosts and cable news commentators.  As such, I would prefer not to cultivate political leaders in that particular field.

2.  My knowledge of Cain is limited, although I have known of him for a while, and know that he has been a rising star in certain conservative quarters for a while.  As such,  I do not have a complete assessment of him.  I will say however, that his Declaration/Constitution confusion drives me a bit nuts and leads me to think that his philosophic,al underpinnings are not as strong as he might think they are (which gets back to the talk show thing, in fact):

“We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States,” Cain said. “We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution.”

“And I know that there’s some people that are not going to do that. So, for the benefit for those that are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believe in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t stop right there, keep reading.

“‘Cause that’s when it says that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do.”

(Source)

Ok, so we all misspeak and misquote.  Sometimes the brain just takes you to the wrong place (I have done it on this very blog, and certainly have done it in class).  However, not all errors are created equal.  If one is admonishing the public about the need “to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution” then one had darn well better demonstrate one’s understanding and vision of said document, rather than going on a multi-sentence rant about principles found in the Declaration of Independence.

To me this is part of what has become something of a sport in US politics (really, it is a long-standing tradition that seems to be more heavily in vogue than normal):  the constant (yet utterly vacuous) exhortation of the Founders and Constitution in a way that only serves political self-aggrandizement.

Although Cain does have a point:  perhaps there are a lot of us out there who need to read the Constitution.

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. TG Chicago says:

    Agreed about the gaffe. Pawlenty’s Iran/Iraq gaffe today was unfortunate, but quite forgivable. In context, Cain’s is pretty rough (and of course, that’s just one of his bad moments on the campaign trail).

    In fact, I’m going to say there are four degrees of gaffe:

    1) Complete non-story, such as a very minor, quick slip of the tongue. Good only for partisans to have a laugh at (e.g., 57 states, “refutiate”)

    2) Very minor story, really only good for a quick blog post. Should be quickly forgotten. Such as a slip of the tongue that lasts an entire paragraph (e.g., Pawlenty’s Iraq/Iran mixup, Obama dating something 2008 in 2011.)

    3) An actual story that seems to tell you something meaningful about a candidate. It makes you wonder about them. (e.g., Cain’s attempt at being a Constitutional professor, Palin’s Couric interview)

    4) Huge story, career killer. (e.g., “Macaca”)

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  2. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:

    Republicans are making “knowledge errors?” I’m shocked, shocked I say! How can someone be making knowledge error unless he or she KNOWS something? The only think that republicans have been showing that they know is that the tax system chokes the life out of those poor working-class entrepreneurs struggling to eke there living out of a paltry $250,000 or more a year. I don’t blame Joe the Plumber, if I thought my taxes would go up I wouldn’t want to take a $220,000 a year increase in pay either–it would just be foolish to pay all of those increased taxes.

    As to the “error” in question–you hit on it when you identified the speech as a rant. Rhetorically, a rant is not intended to be factual or informative. It seeks to promote visceral identity for the speaker with the audience. Cain is calling out to all those good ‘murkans out there who are “as mad as hell and [not willing] to take it any more.” The fact that he doesn’t know the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration (or the Communist Manifesto for that matter) is of no concern–neither do they. They think the know what those document s say, so whatever they declare the documents to say is what they say.

    These are perilous times to live in for people who actually know things and think it matters.

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  3. ken says:

    Another stupid Republican running for office is no surprise. Nor is it unreasonable to think that another stupid Republican will win a national election. We have a track record of electing stupid Republicans to the Presidency: Reagan and Bush jr being the two most obvious examples.

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  4. Eric says:

    Republicans aren’t the only ones guilty of electing stupid people; Dems have done it too. All you have to do is look at some of the Dems in Congress.

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  5. Kylopod says:

    @TG Chicago

    You forgot about Kinsley gaffes, where a politician tells the truth when he’s not supposed to. A number of the gaffes by Joe Biden and Michael Steele fall in this category.

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  6. tom p says:

    Republicans aren’t the only ones guilty of electing stupid people; Dems have done it too.

    Indeed. Think John Edwards, Charles Rangel, or whos the guy from NO LA? Jefferson? Cash in the freezer?

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  7. steve says:

    Not knowing what right of return means is a killer for me. If you have even a modicum of interest in current events, politics and history, how could you not know what that means? Drezner had the best take on it.

    http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/23/announcing_the_trumpies

    Steve

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  8. anjin-san says:

    Not knowing what right of return means is a killer for me

    Yea, but in contemporary conservative politics, ignorance is not a but, nor even a feature. It is a requirement.

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  9. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    I will say however, that his Declaration/Constitution confusion drives me a bit nuts…

    Given your background, this is understandable. However, the electorate as a whole is more concerned with the overall qualities of the candidates. Cain’s business background and analytic skills, together with his strong conservative credentials, make him a candidate to be reckoned with in this campaign.

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  10. @Patrick:

    But don’t you find it problematic if a candidate is going to lecture an audience on allegedly core principles but apparently doesn’t even understand what he is talking about?

    And there was a time that I was impressed with business backgrounds, but along the way I realized that governing and running a business are substantially different things.

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  11. TG Chicago says:

    And there was a time that I was impressed with business backgrounds, but along the way I realized that governing and running a business are substantially different things.

    Many people still seem confused by the fact that being a top-down business leader is different than being an elected official who operates in a system “of the people, by the people, and for the people” — as explained in the Constitution Declaration of Independence Gettysburg Address.

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  12. TG Chicago says:

    @Kylopod

    You forgot about Kinsley gaffes, where a politician tells the truth when he’s not supposed to.

    True. I guess I was looking at degrees of damage to the gaffer. Including Kinsley gaffes would require some Venn Diagramming.

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  13. ponce says:

    Another stupid Republican running for office is no surprise.

    Cain seem to be a very bright guy.

    The real question is whether he can play dumb or not.

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  14. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    But don’t you find it problematic if a candidate is going to lecture an audience on allegedly core principles but apparently doesn’t even understand what he is talking about?

    And there was a time that I was impressed with business backgrounds, but along the way I realized that governing and running a business are substantially different things.

    It’s not that he doesn’t understand what he is talking about, but rather that he made a simple mistake that many others have made as well. TG Chicago brings up another one where people mistake Lincoln’s words in the Gettysburg address to the Constitution. You should overlook that one mistake for the overall content of his message, i.e. that we should all become more familiar with our constitution and other founding documents.

    Governing and running a business are different but there are business principles involved in running a government. Given that our economy is one of the most important facets of a president’s responsibilities, we need one who understands the functioning of business unlike Obama who, as many others have said, doesn’t have a clue. It takes more than business sense to run a government but show me where a perfect candidate exists that has all the characteristics needed, i.e. military background, business, legal, political, etc. If I have to choose a candidate among many, I would want one who at least has a sound understanding of the business world and economics.

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  15. TG Chicago says:

    @Patrick T. McGuire:

    You should overlook that one mistake for the overall content of his message, i.e. that we should all become more familiar with our constitution and other founding documents.

    We should ignore his hypocritical, ignorant lecturing? Maybe you should just say that any blog post that quotes his rant on the Constitution is a falsehood.

    Given that our economy is one of the most important facets of a president’s responsibilities…

    The president’s ability to unilaterally guide domestic policy is quite limited. I’d say foreign policy is a more important facet.

    At any rate, GWB was supposed to do great things based on his business background. How did that work out?

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  16. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    The president’s ability to unilaterally guide domestic policy is quite limited. I’d say foreign policy is a more important facet.

    The president can’t guide it but he can sure as hell destroy it with oppressive regulation and a hostile attitude to business in general.

    At any rate, GWB was supposed to do great things based on his business background. How did that work out?

    Well, average unemployment of around 5.5%, DJI at all time high, real growth in both jobs and salaries… It worked out real well.

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  17. Tlaloc says:

    I suspect Cain is this cycle’s fred thompson. Someone the far right gets really excited about who never had even the slightest chance. Or for an analogy from the left he’s Kucinich (but without the ridiculously hot wife).

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  18. Wayne says:

    Compare to Obama’s gaffs like 57 states, corpsman, getting his countries confused, not knowing what year it is, what language does Austrians speak, etc.

    If Cain is an idiot for confusing the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in a speech which many regular often do, then what does that make Obama?

    I know gaffs are only a sign of someone’s intelligence when the other side does it.

    As for Cain as a candidate, he has my attention. However I’m not going to get too excited about any candidate until they are vetted. Isn’t that what a primary is for?

    IMO many people are tired of the Harvard\Yale inside the establishment candidates who know the inside the beltway buzzwords or subject fads. It’s hard for someone to break that barrier in part due to money and connections but I can see it happening this time.

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  19. TG Chicago says:

    The president can’t guide it but he can sure as hell destroy it with oppressive regulation and a hostile attitude to business in general.

    The idea that an American president is going to be hostile to business is pretty ridiculous. If you view regulations as something enacted for the purpose of oppression, then it’s going to be difficult to communicate with you.

    Well, average unemployment of around 5.5%, DJI at all time high, real growth in both jobs and salaries… It worked out real well.

    He left us in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. That wipes out the real (minuscule) growth in jobs and salaries. I mean, does it really seem fair to credit Bush for the upside of the inflating bubble without also tagging him with the downside of the pop?

    If we’d had some more of that “oppressive” regulation in the financial industry, this could have been avoided. And even to this day, under the “hostile to business” Obama, we still don’t have proper financial regulation in place.

    Anyway, the point is that our last businessman president left the country far worse off than he found it.

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  20. Kylopod says:

    >Compare to Obama’s gaffs like 57 states, corpsman, getting his countries confused, not knowing what year it is, what language does Austrians speak, etc.

    Those gaffes are either slips of the tongue (the speaking equivalent of typos) or ignorance about subjects that aren’t of great importance to governing the United States of America. Lecturing the president about fealty to the Constitution, and then citing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as though it were in the Constitution, is a more serious error, especially for a presidential candidate.

    >If Cain is an idiot for confusing the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in a speech which many regular often do, then what does that make Obama?

    Relax. Nobody here called Cain an idiot. Many smart and well-educated people make this mistake–but none of them ought to be running for president. It’s not about intelligence, it’s about qualifications for the job you’re seeking. One of the minimum qualifications for president ought to be at least a passing familiarity with the document you’re running to uphold.

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  21. To add to what Kylopod said:

    The problem, for me, is not the Cain had, to use the phrase, a verbal typo about where one would find the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but rather it was in the context of extolling people to read and understand the US Constitution that he quoted and described the content of the Declaration.

    This is substantially different than just confusing documents or saying “57 states.”

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  22. TG Chicago says:

    Yeah, Cain’s not an idiot, but given the context, this was a very stupid mistake. And hypocritical as well.

    If Obama had said “Our education system is in trouble when students can’t even name all 57 states”, that would be a comparable gaffe to Cain’s. But, of course, that’s not what Obama said.

    If Cain had been discussing any topic other than Constitutional literacy when he made that statement, it would be a trifling error. But he was lecturing people to read the document while simultaneously demonstrating that he didn’t know what it said.

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  23. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    …then it’s going to be difficult to communicate with you.

    I know that feeling well. I get it a lot here.

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  24. Mr. Cain was a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which has been noted elsewhere is one of the more conservative bastions of the Fed. According to Wikipedia he also worked early in his career as a mathematician on ballistics for the US Navy. To say he is stupid is ludicrous but par for the course for some commenters here who can’t get beyond their partisan prejudices. To focus only on his experience as the CEO of Godfathers Pizza, or his time as a talk show host is similarly shortsighted. On the other hand, to say he may have been pontificating on something important he doesn’t have a firm enough grasp of is certainly viable, but it does seem to be a classic case of picking one out of a thousand things someone says and declaring that it invalidates any other qualifications he may have. It also seems to me to be indicative of a sort of litmus test that ITB observers have that isn’t quite as important to as many others as they may think it should be.

    One of the primary concerns, if not the primary concern, of the Tea Party is the fiscal madness we are suffering under, so perhaps that explains why Mr. Cain is so popular within the Tea Party.

    Perhaps TG Chicago can offer advice on how I can communicate with folks whose first retort is how stupid and ignorant I am or how evil the people I share common ideals with are.

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  25. Wayne says:

    You do understand that when people talk about the founding documents they are often referring to the U.S. Constitution, the bill of rights added to it, and the Declaration of Independence. Misplacing a sentence from one to the other is no big deal. Ironic yes but nt much else.

    Re” This is substantially different than just confusing documents or saying “57 states.””
    How so? It is a slip up. Would you want President that doesn’t even know how many States there are?

    Re “Relax. Nobody here called Cain an idiot”

    What do you call what YADP, anjin-san and ken said?

    Kylopod and Steven just show what I inferred to before. When it’s your guy then it’s a slip of the tongue or an honest mistake. However when it the other side, its totally different and is important.

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  26. Kylopod, I’d be willing to wager that each of the SCOTUS justices is extremely well versed on the contents of the US Constitution, and yet some of them still have trouble interpreting simple statements such as, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Not to mention Dr. Joyner’s recent observation that at least four of the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, now seem to be dead letters.

    Oh, and yes, several people here have in fact called Cain an idiot in this thread:

    Republicans are making “knowledge errors?” I’m shocked, shocked I say! How can someone be making knowledge error unless he or she KNOWS something?

    Another stupid Republican running for office is no surprise.

    Yea, but in contemporary conservative politics, ignorance is not a but, nor even a feature. It is a requirement.

    Or for an analogy from the left he’s Kucinich (but without the ridiculously hot wife).

    But to be fair, the last one only counts if you consider Representative Kucinich to be an idiot.

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  27. You do understand that when people talk about the founding documents they are often referring to the U.S. Constitution, the bill of rights added to it, and the Declaration of Independence. Misplacing a sentence from one to the other is no big deal.

    But, the man didn’t say “people should reread the founding documents” he said “We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution” and went on talking about the importance of the Constitution and constitutional principles whilst quoting the Declaration and expounding on principles in the Declaration.

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  28. TG Chicago says:

    I know that feeling well. I get it a lot here.

    If you get that feeling at a center-right blog, then you might want to think about that for a while.

    Anyway, I wonder if Patrick or charles would seriously give Obama a pass on this if he had said the same thing. If it was me, I’m not saying I’d refuse to vote for him based on it, but I’d be willing to admit that it was a really embarrassing mistake.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit that politicians we support sometimes make embarrassing mistakes. But I imagine it’s harder for conservatives, who tend to view the world in a black-and-white, good-and-evil way. Liberals, who can see more shades of grey, generally have an easier time understanding that their leaders aren’t perfect. Conservatives typically prefer to imagine away all flaws.

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  29. In re: 57 states: click.

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  30. TG Chicago, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about simple gaffes or mistakes that Obama makes. It’s the things he really means to do that worry me more.

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  31. Oh, and your implication that Conservatives are more Manichean in their outlook than progressives is pretty funny. I don’t think there is anything about conservativism or progressivism that make their respective adherentsare inherently more Manichean than the other. There are thoughtful people who understand that all positions depend somewhat on what your starting assumptions are. I think most Progressives a couple of bad starting assumptions, but I don’t think that makes them evil or stupid. I also think that a conservative libertarianism offers the best outcomes for the most people, and don’t really think most progressives won’t to punish success, it’s just that the policies they espouse do that and as a result end up hurting the people they most want to help even more. But YMMV.

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  32. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    @Steven

    But, the man didn’t say “people should reread the founding documents” he said “We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution” and went on talking about the importance of the Constitution and constitutional principles whilst quoting the Declaration and expounding on principles in the Declaration.

    Trust me, we understand your position. But I just don’t find it that big of a deal. As I said earlier, it is his overall message of knowing and applying the Constitution that is important.

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  33. Tano says:

    it is his overall message of knowing and applying the Constitution that is important.

    Except for those nasty bits like “provide for the general welfare”,or “a well regulated militia…”

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  34. wr says:

    “Trust me, we understand your position. But I just don’t find it that big of a deal. As I said earlier, it is his overall message of knowing and applying the Constitution that is important.”

    In other words. do what he says, not what he does.

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  35. anjin-san says:

    To say he is stupid is ludicrous

    I don’t think Cain is stupid, he is obviously intelligent. But you can be intelligent and not know what you are talking about, which seems to be the case here.

    Knowing what you don’t know is a pretty important quality, especially in someone who aspires to great power. We have at least some evidence that Cain lacks this sort of insight into himself.

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