The Other McCain

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

Herman Cain: The Back Story

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.


68 Responses to “Herman Cain: The Back Story”

  1. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 8:07 am

    I’d say “originalist” but I wouldn’t leave it at that, because progressives just try to apply weasel-word definitions, so I’d be more explicit, say something like “I will appoint judges who will overturn Roe v Wade when the earliest opportunity presents itself and who will further uphold the rights of states to rein in the barbarous excesses of the murderous abortion industry.” Also something like, a judge who will uphold the 2nd Amendment rights of all American citizens to bear arms, not only from federal encroachments, but also from state and local encroachments as well.”

  2. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 8:09 am

    Bachmann and Santorum? Why not Perry, he’s the one holding Cain back. If he’d drop out, Cain would be unstoppable. Of course, there’s also a chance Perry’s support would flow to Bachmann, but I’d be fine with that.

  3. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    He needs to park his ass in Iowa if he expects to do any good there. Romney is not that well liked there, so if Cain with his recent standing would just go there and work hard, he could take it running away. So could Perry. The people there don’t care about television ads or for that matter debate performances, or even statements of policy. They want to see you eye to eye. They want to jawbone with you. I’ve known that for years, I didn’t even need Rove to tell me that.

  4. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    The one thing that hurt him most was the Terri Schiavo fiasco. There were a lot of other things, culminating in the fact that it was a rotten year for Republicans, particularly in a state that was majority Democrat, and where a large percentage of Republicans tend to be moderates, especially in the Philly area.

  5. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    Incredibly enough, you and other Cain supporters seem to be suggesting that Cain follow the old Giuliani strategy that lost him the election, even though at one point he was one of the favorites. He blew his shot by ignoring both Iowa and New Hampshire, plus South Carolina, and focusing on Florida. We saw how well that worked out for him.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way with Cain. Giuliani had a legitimate reason. He knew he was unpopular in those three early states. That’s not the case with Cain, if he would spend time there he could win Iowa, and possibly South Carolina, although it would help him there if he could brush up on his national defense knowledge and experience.

    But he’s pursuing a suicidal campaign strategy that he doesn’t have to. He could raise as much money in Iowa as he’s doing now at probably half the expense, and if he wins, which would be probable, the money would start pouring in.

    Hell, maybe some people are right, maybe he is really just trying to sell books. Or maybe he’s running for Treasury Secretary.

  6. Anonymous
    October 15th, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    He has been to Iowa 28 times so far and is going back.  He HAS to build up his national ID if he is to run a successful insurgent campaign.

  7. Anonymous
    October 15th, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    No worries, the establishment will be defeated this time.

  8. Tennwriter
    October 15th, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

    Just watched Media Malpractise, think it said that Obama lost his race in 2000 with 31 percent of the vote.  Good thing that just totally defeated him, and made him never able to come back….

  9. Shawn Gillogly
    October 15th, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    1) Cain shouldn’t avoid South Carolina.

    2) This is a false comparison. Iowa and NH get way too much attention on the GOP side because they’re both friendly to candidates not truly conservative. Iowa wants SoCons, but they want their ethanol and farm subsidies too. NH wants an Establishment Squish. Ironically Giuliani bypassed a state he SHOULD have competed in of the early ones, the only place he COULD have found momentum, that being NH. Cain can finish 2nd or 3rd in both and still be solid going into South Carolina.

    3) Giuliani’s campaign was fairly traditional. So throwing away early states was suicidal. Cain’s campaign has been anything but traditional. New wineskins for new wine.

    That said, I don’t think he should throw away Iowa and NH. But I do think he should take a calculated risk and save money for the South where possible. Best for him is to make Romney spend his warchest and still emerge as the clear “non-Romney” Conservative, win or lose. Then he can still compete in the south on more equitable terms, with lots of free publicity and larger markets where county-by-county organization doesn’t count nearly as much.

  10. Shawn Gillogly
    October 15th, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    You’re underestimating the importance of a political strategist. Just like Dick Morris helped Clinton triangulate and govern from the center while still placating the left, Rove articulated Bush’s 50%+1 Red State strategy, being SoCon enough to keep the Evangelicals, while dismissing FisCons and recognizing Foreign Policy Hawks had nowhere to go.

    Rove was Bush’s ‘ambassador’ to the Establishment. The guy responsible for handpicking candidates to fit what they needed and keep the money rolling in.

    And at a time the White House was pushing policy, to say Rove wasn’t at least as powerful as House and Senate leaders of the same party as the President (and thus largely muzzled), is underestimating the power of the unelected bureaucracy. AKA “The Iron Triangle.”

  11. Tennwriter
    October 15th, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    Hmmm, do I believe you or my lying eyes?

    I could denounce you (nice of you to suggest conservatives are commies, btw) as an invading Martian, but no one would believe it because there is not evidence of such.  Rove being a back-stabbing, manipulative in inappropriate ways, socon hating, Establishment loser…well, there’s evidence to support that.

    His backstabbing O’Donnell is well known by pretty much all Conservative activists for one.

    And its not a tribunal, its a job interview.  In a job interview, I the boss, don’t have to prove that the applicant is scum, I just have to give him a fair shot in my mind, and if I think he’s scum, then nope, not hiring him.

  12. Tennwriter
    October 15th, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

    He ain’t the Evil Overlord, of course.  I’m not sure anyone here thinks he is.

    What he is, is an influential power broker, connected, Establishment, hack pretending to be an honest analyst.  He’s probably number one in that regard at the present time.

    In ways, he’s David Brooks on steroids, or with an additional skill set or two, more accurately.

    This doesn’t make him Evil Overlord, but perhaps primus inter pares.

  13. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    He’s one of the most brilliant political strategists of all time, so of course he’s evil. That’s his job description. His business cards should end with MWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA

  14. Tennwriter
    October 15th, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    “You know that day long ago, when I torched your village, orphaned you, scarred you for life both emotionally and physically….” Rove said meditatively to the heroic Tea Party guy.
    “Yes!” The hero howled in rage holding up his copy of the Constitution, preparing to banish the demon back to the Netherworld.
    “Well for you that was the most important day of your life.” Rove paused and leaned forward with a small smile.  “For me, it was Tuesday.”

  15. Anonymous
    October 15th, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    OK we both threw out absolutes, but we both know what we meant.

    But Rove, The Night O’Donnel Won.

    Hell, that’s symbolic enough to go with Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra.

  16. Anonymous
    October 15th, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    First, I’m still not fully committed to Cain, so don’t project cheerleading just yet.

    Second, South Carolina is in the South. Who suggested he ignore SC? That would be a stronghold for him.

    Third, we are in a much different political state (of being) right now. Non-Romney is going to get substantial support no matter what because the necessity for a conservative swing is vital.  Urgent, actually. Tea Partyers, the real energy, understand this explicitly and will give Cain votes whether Cain is there once or a hundred times. Cain’s dividing his time among several states out of traditional order doesn’t mean he’s ignoring IA or NH as has been noted by CPAguy.

    Fourth, no one really needs to meet the candidates face to face and door to door anymore. With the social media and instant access to immeasurable content, you can be sure that those who would roust themselves to vote in a caucus have some insight as to who is who and their warts and platforms. The Giuliani age was ages ago even though not much time has passed. Technology enables infinitely more voters to make more sound decisions. Glad-handing and mingling is part of the process, naturally, but it isn’t nearly as important as having a strong platform and presenting it clearly. Cain can do this if he bones up on more issues, but he surely can do this via YouTube, blog interviews, TV/Radio appearances, etc. Now, if NH gets bent out of shape because it’s an ego thing – that face-to-face is essential – then it says more about NH than it does Cain.

    Shawn Gillogly had some good notes, too.

    Finally, none of this scheming of the “best” way to campaign from this far away from the action detracts from the position that Rove is a political hack working to move his preferred candidate. He can have an opinion but he should disclose his interests just as would a financial analyst on a financial media outlet. He rarely does that and it compromises his analysis.

  17. Anonymous
    October 15th, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    Yeah, but once you get past about seven or eight words, it all becomes grist for the parser’s mill.

    Continuing with a related thought from a reply to Joe…

    That’s why Reagan’s famous answer on abortion always kicked ass. Short, simple, and hard to argue with.

    “If we are to err, shouldn’t it be on the side of life?”

    He never had to explicitly say he was on either side of the false dichotomy between “pro life” and “pro choice.” He just liked to ask pointed questions like that, and left it up to folks to draw their own conclusions. His approach was different, focusing on the humanity of the unborn, and not on the choice by some to kill them.

    Now of course, that choice has become a slaughter. (And that is my term for it, even though I support, in principle, a woman’s right to make that awful choice.) Women need to choose better, and err on the side of life.

  18. ThePaganTemple
    October 15th, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

    Well, like it or not, glad-handing and mingling is the most important part of the process in Iowa and New Hampshire, and having a personal presence there is important in both states, especially in Iowa. I don’t care how many YouTube videos, interviews, appearances on cable news, etc., Cain does, none of that is a substitute for what is required to win in those two states. It’s brutal. But its expected. Does it speak highly of the people of those states? That’s not for me to judge. What it does say is that without that ground game, Cain will probably lose. Iowa is a caucus state and you have to work your ass off to make sure you get people to the caucus. Then you have to hope they stay there, and that they stay there for you.

    Here’s how it works. Candidates W, X, Y, and Z get their people to the caucus. Candidate W is barely ahead of candidate X. Candidate Y is further down the line, but still well ahead of candidate Z. Candidate Z has no hope in this particular caucus, so there’s no use in holding on. He lets his meager number of supporters caucus with candidate X whom he finds preferable over candidate W. Candidate Y does likewise. Candidate X wins this particular caucus. This may or may not be repeated in various other locations.

    In other words, its not like a primary where you go, cast your ballot, and go home. There’s a lot of maneuvering involved. And a hell of a lot more politicking, right down to the bitter end.

    And if you want to do good, you HAVE to be there and you HAVE to work it CONSTANTLY. It takes strength, stamina, and willpower, and the people there figure that if a candidate can’t be there, he’s either not up to the task, or doesn’t care nearly enough. That’s how it works. The internet is not going to change that.