I've been having a high old time the last couple of weeks watching both Republican presidential candidates and TV political pundits squirm whenever the phrase “9-9-9” is uttered. Nevertheless, Herman Cain has shown no real ability to raise the tens of millions of dollars a serious candidate needs to compete nationally. Herman Cain has proffered no viable field strategy to build sustainable voter support for his candidacy across the country. Herman Cain didn’t have more than a handful of campaign staffers on his payroll until last week. Herman Cain is not willing to answer tough questions about the positions he has taken and the things he has said. No matter how you slice it, Mr. Cain looks like the GOP’s definition of an affirmative action baby, and there isn’t a thing the Republican Party powers that be can do about it.
The ultraconservative branch of the GOP—the branch where a lot of the right wing’s big bucks comes from—has become deluded by the energy and the visibility of the Tea Party into thinking that they can put a hardline conservative in the White House. But the Herman Cain candidacy has flipped the script on these kingmakers. Cain's outsized appeal to the Tea Party faithful has translated into a very real drop in the polls for Texas governor Rick Perry, who was supposed to have the Tea Party vote in the bag. For the majority of Americans, who can clearly see that Cowboy Jesus is not ready for prime time politics, there’s only one question left—are the Republicans brave enough to ignore their baser instincts and get behind either the Mormon or the black guy as their presidential nominee?
If this were ESPN's Monday Night Football, right about now you would hear Mike Tirico chime in: “every Republican presidential nominee in history has been white, male and Protestant,” conventional wisdom which would normally rule out both Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. Layer in on top of that historical factoid the image of a Republican Party that is spending way too much energy to appeal to conservative white Christian voters, who are voters they would probably get anyway in a general election, and you’ve got Exhibit A of the shortcomings of hardline conservatism.
The irony of all of this?
There is nothing wrong with Herman Cain being an affirmative action candidate. Affirmative action, long demonized by conservatives as a free pass for unqualified minorities to enrich themselves at the expense of white Americans, has never been about providing equal outcomes, but equal opportunities. As a successful former corporate executive and business owner, possessing a personal fortune and a Rolodex bulging with the contact information of the rich and famous, Herman Cain was well equipped to design and plan a robust, fundamentally sound national presidential campaign effort. Had he done so, I and others would not be so quick to dismiss his chances of actually winning the GOP presidential nomination.
Herman Cain will not be the GOP nominee, but the Republican primary opponent who wins the race will feel the lasting effects of the Georgia phenomenon’s candidacy all the way to Election Day.