Posted on | October 29, 2011 | 96 Comments
Everybody knows I love Ace, so much so that I laugh even when he’s viciously mocking my candidate:
[H]e talks like a f–king dumbass much of the time, and when he’s not talking like a f–king dumbass, he’s doing an empty folksy pander which is all very nice for those who are receptive to it but says nothing about policy or ideas or competency for office. . . .
Cain could very well win the nomination, if people just want an angry old dude spouting dumbass crap as their nominee. Which is what I think the people actually want, and I’m sick of instructing them that maybe they should rest their Emotion Muscles a little bit and work out their Thinking Muscles some more.
One way or another, you gotta admit that’s funny.
If you don’t like Herman Cain, you think it’s funny that Ace is calling him “an angry old dude spounting dumbass crap” because you agree.
On the other hand, if you do like Herman Cain, you think it’s funny that Cain’s improbable success has driven Ace to the point of helpless exasperation where he’s writing this kind of stuff.
Obviously, I’m in the latter category.
And I know Ace’s basic problem: He was in the room when Rick Perry announced at the Red State Gathering. Ace was lured to South Carolina and told he was buying a one-way ticket to glory on the Smilin’ Texan Express. (“Howdy. Thank you, Erick.”)
Alas, there was a detour on the road to glory: Three September debates in which the Smilin’ Texas was first kinda OK (Sept. 7 at the Reagan Library), then kinda bad (Sept. 12 in Tampa) and then Holy Creeping Jeebus Did He Ever Stink the Place Up (Sept. 22 in Orlando), followed by his embarrassing wipeout in the Sept. 24 Florida GOP straw poll.
Has any dream ever died such a hard death so quickly? It took just six weeks — a mere 42 days from his Aug. 13 announcement to the Sept. 24 straw poll — for the Perry bandwagon to crash and burn. And rather than blaming their humiliation on the geniuses who convinced them the Smilin’ Texan was all that and a stack of pancakes, instead the disappointed bandwagon-jumpers blame . . . Herman Cain.
Look, it’s not just Ace. I’ve witnessed the same reaction from other people who jumped on the Perry bandwagon and who, to this day, will tell you that Rick Perry is the only viable alternative to Mitt Romney so that to be for Herman Cain (or any other Republican candidate except Perry) is to be de facto pro-Romney, as they see it.
The rage of the Perrybots toward Cain especially is boundless, cosmic, infinite. Remember that when the first rumbles of a Perry candidacy were heard in June, Cain had seemingly already shot his bolt. He got a bump from the May 5 debate in Greenville, but couldn’t capitalize on it, and then Michelle Bachmann stole the show in the June 12 New Hampshire debate. By mid-summer, all the pundits figured Herman was through, and his disappointing fifth-place finish in the Ames Straw Poll seemed to confirm that judgment.
Nobody (and I do mean, nobody, including me) predicted Cain would have such a magic moment in Orlando, getting more votes in the Florida straw poll than Perry and Romney combined. Perry supporters probably dismissed it as dumb luck, but remember what I wrote:
As late as Friday afternoon, none of the pundits expected the Atlanta businessman to win the Florida GOP’s “Presidency 5” straw poll. But if what it took to win was a dynamic speaker who could bring a roomful of grassroots Republicans to their feet, Cain’s victory was in some sense inevitable. . . .
As the old saying goes, luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity, and Cain was perhaps uniquely prepared to take advantage of the opportunity Perry’s stumble presented.
It may be tempting to dismiss as mere show business Cain’s ability to light up a GOP crowd, but it’s a skill he has obviously worked hard to develop. And the dismissive attitude toward that aspect of Cain’s candidacy — he is far and away the most inspiring speaker in the field.
And while Ace calls him “an angry old dude,” Cain is actually a cheerful, optimistic, humorous kind of guy. He is eminently likeable, and being likeable was the edge that George W. Bush always had over sourpusses like Al Gore and John Kerry.
His oratorical skills and his basic likeability would be enough to make Cain a formidable candidate, but he’s also got a great personal narrative: Born to humble circumstances, rose to become a successful businessman, stood up to Bill Clinton over HillaryCare, survived cancer — he’s the embodiment of the American Dream, at a time when the American Dream is under siege.
OK, so he’s not an expert at foreign policy and prefers catchy slogans to wonkish details. He’s shown a knack for getting himself tangled up in controversy while improvising answers to questions about issues where most Republicans have well-thought-out positions. Also, his campaign suffers from organizational issues and seems to lack a plausible “ground game” strategy for the early states.
Admit all those caveats about Cain and his campaign and yet — and yet — his strengths are greater than his weaknesses. Herman Cain has enormous potential as a candidate and despite all his flaws and failures he is, after all, winning. As I said the other day, victory tends to become its own argument.
So we have Ace’s exasperation, we have Karl Rove’s whiteboard, and we have Ben Smith’s sneers: “[T]he Republican Party isn’t going to nominate the short-staffed former pizza executive and motivational speaker presently touring Alabama.”
The experts are probably right. The odds favor Mitt Romney, as they have all along. But sometimes unprecedented things happen, and if I were the only one who was getting an eerie feeling about this, you might do well to dismiss it: “Well, it’s just that crazy blogger talking.” But Nate Silver is also beginning to be intrigued:
In short, while I think the conventional wisdom is probably right about Mr. Cain, it is irresponsible not to account for the distinct and practical possibility (not the mere one-in-a-thousand or one-in-a-million chance) that it might be wrong. The data we have on presidential primaries is not very rich, but there is abundant evidence from other fields on the limitations of expert judgment.
We must wait on events. People sometimes forget that about politics: Events matter.
You can’t formulate a statistical probability and then expect the most probable outcome to occur automatically. Stuff happens — including world events over which no American has any real influence — and it changes the whole landscape. We’re 66 days away from the Iowa caucuses, and 73 days from the New Hampshire primary. We don’t know what will happen between now and then, but 74 days from now (Jan. 11, the day after New Hampshire), we’ll be able to say whether the Herman Cain phenomenon is serious or not.
Let Ace mock Herman Cain to his heart’s content. I hope he’s still laughing when I become Ambassador to Vanuatu.
Update (Smitty): Inside Charm City reports:
Earlier this afternoon, it was announced that Herman Cain won the straw poll at the Maryland Conservative Action Network’s Turning the Tides conference in Annapolis “by a wide margin.”