Herman Cain: Rising Star, Or Flash In The Pan?

Herman Cain is getting a lot of attention lately, but will he amount to anything?

As Steven Taylor noted last week, there’s a lot of attention being paid lately to Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and failed candidate for U.S. Senator from Georgia who is now running for President of the United States. Yesterday, The Washington Post became the latest major media outlet to take a look at Cain’s candidacy and his background. It was a fairly positive piece, but it’s worth noting that it ran on Memorial Day, likely not a day when many people are reading the news, and the article was published in the papers Style Section, not with it’s regular political coverage (although it did show up in a fairly prominent place on the front page of the Post’s website for most of the day yesterday).  Clearly, a reflection of the fact that they aren’t really seeing Cain as a true contender for the nomination.

Nate Silver, however, argues that Cain should possibly be taken more seriously:

I would not suggest that Mr. Cain is one of the leaders. But in a field where the three insider favorites to win the race — Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman — collectively poll at just 25 percent, and where some Republicans seem to be pining for an outsider (perhaps even outside-the-box) choice, he’s the freshest face. Although his credentials as an elected official are obviously nonexistent, that also means he has less baggage to run from.

Mr. Cain seems to be taking his bid seriously, unlike (for instance) Donald Trump. Polls like these ought to ensure that he gets at least a fair amount of media attention, assuming the press is doing its job properly.

He has good chance of having some influence on the race — perhaps like Mike Huckabee in 2008, a candidate with whom he shares some similarities. And I don’t think the possibility that he could actually win the nomination can so easily be dismissed. The argument that you’re likely to hear elsewhere is that candidates without an electoral track record haven’t won the nomination in the modern (post-1972) primary era. But it’s a small sample size, and some or another precedent is broken in nearly every election cycle.

Jonathan Berenstein takes issue with Silver, however, and points out that the recent history of Presidential candidates who have never held electoral office before does not bode well for Cain:

As far as Cain, however…the point isn’t really that “candidates without an electoral track record haven’t won the nomination.” It’s that they haven’t really come close. The best showings by candidates who hadn’t been elected to anything were, if I recall correctly, Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in 1984 and 1988; Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000; and Pat Buchanan in 1996 (and, I suppose, 1992). I certainly wouldn’t count Wes Clark’s 2004 campaign; military heroes, of course, have a long history of winning nominations. I suppose Pat Robertson in 1988, too.

Not only did Jackson, Forbes, Robertson and Buchanan never get particularly close to winning, but none of them is really a good comp for Cain. Jackson was a national figure, and a leader of an important constituency within the Democratic Party, long before running for president. Robertson was basically similar. Buchanan was well-known, and had worked in two White Houses. Forbes is perhaps a closer fit, but he had instant name recognition, if nothing else. Cain has none of that.

Indeed, it is worth noting that, in modern American history, the only candidate who had never held elected office who ended up winning the White House who wasn’t a General (i.e., Eisenhower) was Herbert Hoover. Hoover, however, had spent eight years as Commerce Secretary to President Harding and President Coolidge and had made a name for himself as an engineer and humanitarian before that. In fact, other than Hoover, the only other person without electoral experience who was not a General to be elected President was William Howard Taft. However, Taft had been a United States Appeals Court Judge, Solicitor General, Provisional Governor of Cuba, Civil Governor of  The Philippines, and Secretary of War prior to being elected President in 1908. To put it bluntly, the American people don’t elect amateurs or people without some kind of electoral track record to the Presidency. This argues strongly against someone like Cain, for the reasons Bernstein notes.

The main problem that Cain faces it seems to me, though, is the fact that he’s competing for a limited amount of voters with people who are likely to be better organized than he is. Michele Bachmann is likely to get in the race in the next week or two. Tim Pawlenty is already in and is, if nothing else, running a professional, well polished campaign so far. And then, there’s Sarah Palin. If she gets in the race, then the competition for the social conservative/Tea Party vote, which is where Cain seems to be drawing most of his support, will become even more intense. A candidate who is relatively unknown is likely to get lost amid the media coverage of “stars” like Bachmann and Palin.

Cain is getting a lot of attention now precisely because most people had never heard of him before. We see this frequently in Presidential campaign when a long-shot candidate who may have an interesting story gets some media attention and, maybe, a bump in the polls. It never lasts, however. The first test of just how serious this Cain boomlet is will come in mid-July when the first round of fundraising reports is released. If Cain isn’t pulling in money, then you can take that as a sign that  Republicans may like what they hear, but they aren’t willing to invest in a candidate who likely won’t be a factor in the race by the time the Iowa Caucuses roll around.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. I am going to vote “flash in the pan” and will stand my statement that I will be mildly surprised if he is even on the ballot in NH–not shocked, mind you, but I just don’t see him having staying power.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    but I just don’t see him having staying power.

    Of all the reasons not to take Cain seriously, this has to be the worst. Do you really think that Cain could have accomplished half of what he did in his life if he didn’t have “staying power”?

  3. @Patrick:

    I was not saying that he does work hard or lacks perseverance skills.

    I don’t think he will stay in the race for the long haul (hence “staying power”). He would hardly be the first person who was otherwise highly success in life to fail to be a viable candidate for nomination.

  4. Isn’t it a kind of a given that Cain’s candidacy is a joke? I guess I could see him as a WAY outside the box choice for VP, but other than that he will fade away.

  5. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    @Steven

    I was not saying that he does work hard or lacks perseverance skills.

    I don’t think he will stay in the race for the long haul (hence “staying power”). He would hardly be the first person who was otherwise highly success in life to fail to be a viable candidate for nomination.

    My apologies, I misunderstood your meaining. Although, I still think that you are wrong but that’s an argument that neither of us will win. Only time will tell.

  6. SJ Reidhead says:

    The main reason not to take him seriously is his romantic affair with the “Fair Tax”, which would absolutely destroy our economy. He is not considering the consequences of adding a 23% sales tax to the sales taxes that each state has. Here in NM that would push us up to about 33% sales tax.

    That is a recipe for abject disaster.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

  7. barbbtx says:

    Just like with Herman Cain the Fair Tax is, to know it, is to love it.
    It would be great for the economy and for each and every one of us.
    http://www.fairtax.org/site/PageServer

    Cain/West 2012

  8. newrouter says:

    “The main reason not to take him seriously is his romantic affair with the “Fair Tax”, which would absolutely destroy our economy.”

    sounds like a good opening bid if your real goal is a flat tax.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Flash in the pan as far as the presidency is concerned.

    Going directly from never having held a political office all the way to the White House in this day and age basically is inconceivable. Eisenhower did it but Ike had won WWII in Europe. There’s a big difference between SHAEF Commander and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Come on, let’s not all chug the Kool-Aid.

    That said, Cain perhaps can be a rising star with the proper seasoning and a cogent plan of action. Would like to see Cain run for a material albeit lesser office. There’s always the U.S. House. Granted, Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats are spoken for as long as those two incumbents deign to stay in office, but the governorship is a potential play every four years or at worst every 8 years. Georgia also has a lieutenant governor’s office.

    Unfortunately Cain is attempting in the political sense to sprint before crawling. It’s a shame, really, because he certainly has potential.

  10. newrouter says:

    “Going directly from never having held a political office all the way to the White House in this day and age basically is inconceivable.”

    basically that’s what the baracky did. running for office shouldn’t be confused with governing.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    That said, Cain perhaps can be a rising star with the proper seasoning

    You realize that you make it impossible for me to avoid responding, “You mean, like oregano?”

  12. Tlaloc says:

    I maintain that Cain is basically this season’s Fred Thompson.

    That’s “flash in the pan” for those not paying attention last time around.

  13. newrouter says:

    “I maintain that Cain is basically this season’s Fred Thompson.”

    that would make santorum, bachmann, and pawlenty a flash too. cain is in to win not do a christie or daniels or perry or palin. give him that.

  14. @SJ Reidhead & : I would say the main reason not to take him seriously is that he
    couldn’t even win a Senate primary in his own state. It also could be his “secret” plan the 2 1/2 wars we are fighting right now. Newsflash Herman, we are a long way from 1968 and that ain’t gonna fly. Or there’s the fact he in no way can win anything.

    @Tsar Nicholas: See above. He tried for lesser office and failed miserably.

  15. anjin-san says:

    I maintain that Cain is basically this season’s Fred Thompson.

    Does he have a trophy wife too?

  16. newrouter says:

    “I would say the main reason not to take him seriously is that he
    couldn’t even win a Senate primary in his own state.”

    yes hillary clinton didn’ t win sh*t in 2008. you must be an “intellectual” ie credentialed idiot.

  17. newrouter says:

    “he couldn’t even win a Senate primary in his own state.”

    hey hillary was ALWAYS a yankees fan.

  18. @newrouter: While I have some good guesses, I don’t totally understand what you are talking about. “intellectual”??? “credentialed idiot”??? “Hillary”??? Please elaborate.

  19. barbbtx says:

    Whoohooo! He’s second in Iowa, tied with Palin behind Romney. Romney 21% Palin and Cain 15%.

  20. wr says:

    Pat Robertson came in second in Iowa once. Which is why the Iowa caucases are a joke to anyone but hardcore righties.