Posted on | October 14, 2011 | 68 Comments
Herman Cain at the Value Voters Summit, Oct. 7 (Photo: Robert Stacy McCain)
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) is one of the most conservative members of the Senate. But being a native of Georgia, I remember Isakson’s reputation as a “squish” — damned near a RINO — among the hard-core conservatives of my acquaintance. It is therefore a rather ironic fact that the first time I heard of Herman Cain was in 2004 when my older brother Kirby, who still lives in Douglas County, Ga., called me while I was working at The Washington Times to tell me about this guy he’d heard on the radio who was, he assured me, “the real deal.” (If you knew Kirby, you’d understand why that got my attention.)
Cain was then a candidate in the 2004 Georgia Republican primary for Senate and, after Kirby called, I urged one of our reporters to investigate this insurgent candidate. Whatever ended up in the paper as a result of my editorial suggestion, what I learned from my own research was that the GOP Establishment had anointed Isakson as their candidate — and by “GOP Establishment” of course I mean Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman.
Back during the Bush years, Rove and Mehlman were the chief puppeteers pulling strings in DC to manipulate Republican primary contests across the country. This sort of top-down intervention was simultaneously (a) notorious among grassroots conservatives and (b) nearly impossible to prove, so that anyone who mentioned it publicly could be dismissed as a paranoid kook. But everybody knew what was really going on, and the most infamous example was in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary where the conservative grassroots spported Pat Toomey, while the Rove/Mehlman axis put the fix in for the RINO incumbent, Arlen Specter.
You can ask Rick Santorum about this: Santorum was more or less forced to walk the plank for Specter’s re-election but — two years later, when Santorum faced a tough re-election contest in a bad year for Republicans — Specter and the GOP Establishment were MIA. What the Rove/Mehlman axis did to Santorum is fairly well-known, but how they conspired to beat Herman Cain in the 2004 Georgia Senate primary is less well-known. It is therefore helpful to read a recap of Cain’s 2004 campaign by Atlantic‘s Molly Ball:
Cain came out of nowhere: a virtual unknown banking on his business background, his message and his ability — honed as a paid motivational speaker — to hold audiences in thrall. And he very nearly forced Isakson, who was supposed to have it in the bag, into a humbling runoff.
“Had he understood politics a little bit more, had he started a little bit earlier and done things a little bit differently, he would be the United States senator from Georgia now,” said Atlanta-based Republican strategist Tom Perdue, who supported Cain in 2004 but didn’t work on his campaign.
Perdue believes the 2004 race was a vital political education for Cain.
The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO went into that race “naive about politics,” thinking he could command the political arena like he did the world of business. He came out of it with a better understanding, Perdue said.
“He learned from his mistakes,” Perdue said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to be president of the United States. But he learned, and that in itself tells you that he’s a smart man.”
Read the whole thing, and maybe you’ll understand why I grit my teeth whenever some critic of Cain blames him for never having held elective office before. And maybe you’ll also understand why, despite my
fanatical support for Herman Cain professional journalistic neutral objectivity, I have a soft spot for Rick Santorum. Both he and Cain are, in a sense, victims of the same kind of shady “party insider” machinations that are now being used to try to orchestrate the nomination of Mitt Romney.
As Michelle Malkin said yesterday: “Damn, I hate politics.” And every time I see Karl Rove on Fox News badmouthing Herman Cain, I tremble in fury, wishing they’d stick a “Mitt Romney Stooge” disclaimer on Rove.