The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Smart’ Pundits Sneer at Herman Cain

Posted on | May 6, 2011 | 82 Comments

Photo courtesy of Ellen Carmichael

Herman Cain meets with reporters Thursday following the Republican presidential debate in Greenville, S.C. His communications director, Ellen Carmichael (in green blouse) checks her messages.

“So now it’s the duty of the establishment pols and the establishment media to assure us that Cain can’t win . . .”
Jeff Goldstein, Protein Wisdom

I’ve already dealt with Noah Kristula-Green’s sneering dismissal of Herman Cain. Now go read Jazz Shaw’s account of the South Carolina GOP debate, where he sarcastically sneers:

And some of the expected voices like Jim Hoft and Stacy McCain immediately went into full blow, ALL CAPS DRUDGE MODE yelling CAIN WINS! CAIN WINS! But let’s face it… Cain has a lot more work to do than Pawlenty. One good appearance which was, at times, rather short on substance is not, I think, going to be nearly enough to launch his electoral ship boldly out into the public eye as a serious contender.

Go read the whole thing, and then watch the video of Frank Luntz’s focus group (or watch it again, if you’ve seen it already):

Luntz asks for a show of hands of Cain supporters and then says, “Well, we can stop right there!” More than half the people raised their hands, and when Luntz asks how many of them began the evening as Herman Cain supporters, only one hand goes up. “This is unprecedented — he was not a real candidate before tonight.” Notice also at the 1:20 mark where a guy says of Cain, “He’s likeable.”

Luntz was surprised by the result — I was not. I had predicted a Cain victory (as had my friend Steve Foley at Citizens for Cain). In fact, in a conversation with Cain’s communication director Ellen Carmichael a few hours before the debate, I’d said that Mitt Romney skipping the debate was perfect, because it would highlight the contrast between Cain and the charisma-deficient Tim Pawlenty.

Yet Jazz Shaw, who didn’t see it coming, sneers at the result that vindicates my judgment, and then sneers at my excitement — and also sneers at Jim Hoft — because being excited is uncool.

Folks: It’s time to get excited! Go join the online grassroots army at Citizens for Cain. (You can sign up by giving them your e-mail, so they can send you updates.)

I’ve called Herman Cain “Steve Forbes with charisma,” and I think some people are underestimating how far that combination of a business background and a winning personality can take Cain in the GOP primaries. Some people would rather focus on the media-approved “frontrunners,” at risk of ignoring a political phenomenon that is truly “unprecedented,” as Luntz says.

Despite the candidate’s obvious strengths, it’s not considered “smart” to cheer for a longshot, and so the very fact that Cain has been described as a “second-tier” candidate is, to some people, reason to dismiss him altogether. I’d hate to see that attitude become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so that the GOP is stuck with a bland moderate like Mitt Romney or T-Paw.

This is not to say that Cain should be exempt from the same critical scrutiny any other candidate gets. Byron York rakes him over the coals pretty good for a “head-scratching moment” when Cain balked at outlining a specific policy for Afghanistan, saying that he is ” not privy to a lot of confidential information.”

When Cain met with reporters after the debate, he explained that he approached Afghanistan like he would a business decision. “A good businessman does not make a decision without considering all of the facts,” he said. “I haven’t been privy to all of the confidential information to make that decision.” . . .
“What I’m saying is I will not be pushed into spitting out a plan so people can say, this is his plan.”

This makes perfect sense to me. Why should Cain, in May 2011, commit himself to pursuing a specific Aghan policy if he should become president in January 2013, when (a) he hasn’t consulted the top military and diplomatic personnel, and (b) the situation in Afghanistan may have changed enormously by the time he takes office? His chief complaint about current Afghan policy — “it’s not clear what the mission is” — is certainly sound. Reporters want to nail his feet to the ground and make him commit to a definite policy now, but that would only expose him to criticism either from his GOP primary rivals or (eventually) from Democrats. Credit Cain with being cagey enough not to play that game.

As might be expected, Dave Weigel was thoroughly cynical:

Cain, the businessman and motivational speaker, just kept repeating that he had plans to solve problems, and the candidates with careers in politics didn’t have plans. The thing about repeatedly saying you have a plan is that an audience believes it. Cain did well in a post-debate focus group conducted by Frank Luntz for Fox News because, to use some of their words, Cain was “articulate” and he “had plans.”
The news of the focus group spread quickly. When the debate ended, he waltzed into the spin room, made himself known to the press, and attracted the second-largest crowd of any candidate.

We expect that kind of snarky cynicism from Weigel at Slate, but why should we get the same attitude from Jazz Shaw at Hot Air? (Speaking of “as might be expected”: Allahpundit does a post about Cain’s victory without linking me, the only blogger to interview Cain after last night’s debate.)

Brian O’Connor at Red Dog Report has a poll on who won Thursday’s debate. But why are the pundits so eager to dismiss Cain’s win with the Luntz focus group? Jimmie Bise Jr. ponders the phenomenon:

I think that focus group is very important and it’ll probably be given short shrift by the pundits, professional and otherwise. That’s a shame because those folks are just like millions of other folks who’ll head to voting machines all around the country in November, 2012 and they, not the pundits, will decide who becomes President. I’m sure someone can come up with a list of reasons why they think their opinion is worth more than the people in that room, but when it comes right down to it, simple voter enthusiasm matters more than anything else in the world. If Herman Cain can wow more and more of the country like he wowed that crowd last night, he will be our next President. It’s that simple.

Exactly: It is not necessary that Republican presidential candidates impress the punditry, so long as they can impress the voters. From the start, the Cain campaign has been focused on running a solid “ground war” in the early states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — building a grassroots base through good old-fashioned retail politics. And to remind you of what his Ellen Carmichael says, “When people meet Herman, they like Herman.”

Do not underestimate the man. Because I’m keeping score. Doug Mataconis is already on the record:

None of the five men who appeared at the GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina last night are going to be the Republican nominee for President.

Never say never, Doug.

UPDATE: Et tu, Hugh Hewitt?

UPDATE II: This invitation just arrived via e-mai:

(Stockbridge, Georgia)- Longtime corporate executive and conservative leader Herman Cain will announce his decision regarding a potential presidential campaign on Saturday, May 21, 2011 in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
The event will be a free rally open to the public. Media must be credentialed to attend. . . .
Cain is widely believed to have been the winner of the first 2012 Republican candidate debate Thursday evening in Greenville, SC, and has steadily gained grassroots and financial support across the U.S. He is best known for his executive positions in many major American corporations, including Godfather’s Pizza, Pillsbury and Burger King. He also served as the President of the National Restaurant Association and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri.

Pneumonia or no pneumonia, I can’t miss that. Hit the freaking tip jar!

UPDATE III: With “friends” like Jazz Shaw and Doug Mataconis, who needs enemies at The Washington Post?

UPDATE IV: Doctor Zero loves him some Herman Cain.

UPDATE V: Jim Treacher also loves him some Herman Cain and welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE VI: Who loves him some Herman Cain? Jimmie Bise Jr!

UPDATE VII: You know who Da Tech Guy loves? He loves him some Herman Cain!

Stephen Green likewise loved him some Herman Cain, but maybe that was just the vodka talking.


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