Politics

Last stop for the Cain train

By Rebecca Davis 5 December 2011

Herman Cain dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Saturday. REBECCA DAVIS takes a look at the rise and fall of the pizza magnate.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Herman Cain actually looked hot to take the Republican presidential nomination. Indeed, the prospect of Cain going head-to-head with Obama was an intriguing one: two black candidates from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Many pundits have trumpeted the idea that the predominantly white Republican voters’ enthusiasm for Cain represents a giant stride forward in American race attitudes. But Cain was said to be most popular among older, more conservative Republicans. In other words, his conservatism may have swayed them more than any other factor.

Cain’s appeal was his “everyman” factor – straight-talking, no-bullshitting, tell-it-like-it-is candidate in a political landscape redolent with obfuscation and prevarication. But it was precisely this that seemed to undo him in the end. It appears voters find it too difficult to reconcile the hearty confidence and apparent sincerity of his early performance with the man-down stumbling of his last days.

That Herman Cain had an affair, or even a series of affairs, the American public might well have been able to stomach. That he may have sexually harassed women employees, might not be a deal-breaker. But what ultimately ended it for Cain was his catastrophic mishandling of the sex-scandals: flat-out denials followed by retractions followed by partial confessions followed by claims of amnesia and attempts to smear the personalities of the women involved. It seemed almost impossible to square this with sincerity, openness, honesty.

It is a pity Cain’s campaign ended in this manner, because he was a charismatic, fiery candidate who made for entertaining viewing. Cain had absolutely zero political experience, but used this to his advantage. Voters, sick and tired of the political status quo and the entire Washington establishment, were wooed by his outsider shtick and his businessman’s solutions to political problems. While some of his proposals – such as the 9-9-9 flat tax rate – were derided as unworkable, they nonetheless were game-changers in some regards, with other Republican nominees scrambling to make their own campaigns more Cain-ish. Even the fact that Cain knew bugger-all about foreign policy didn’t seem to dissuade voters, perhaps because it chimed with a certain parochial let’s-worry-about-ourselves-first mentality. In reality, however, to have a Republican presidential nominee who couldn’t tell you what continent Uzbekistan was on would likely have been a problem down the line: Obama would have eaten him alive in debates.

It’s thought that Republican voters who would have sided with Cain will now likely defect to Newt Gingrich, who is seen as comparably conservative. This will affect the chances of Mitt Romney, who is being painted by other candidates as a leftie pinko socialist. What Gingrich has in his favour is the heft of an experienced politician who could hold his own in debates against Obama, something voters will be needing to consider as the first primaries draw near.

Ending his campaign on Saturday, Cain spoke to supporters outside the building in Atlanta that would have become his national headquarters. Defiant to the end, he blamed the media for peddling lies about his sex-life: “It hurts my wife, it hurts my family, it hurts me and it hurts the American people because you have been denied solutions to your problems”. In reality, it’s unlikely Cain would have been able to provide solutions. But watching him try was entertaining stuff. Here are some of his highs and lows:

Best campaign moment: Barnstorming performance in September’s Fox News/Google debate, which saw him win a Florida presidential straw poll and receive campaign funding amounting to several hundred thousand dollars a day.

Worst campaign moment: Being accused of sexual harassment by four former employees when Ginger White came forward to accuse him of a 13-year affair.

Funniest moment: When a video emerged from his pizza days showing him crooning along to the tune of John Lennon’s Imagine, with the lyrics changed to “Imagine there’s no pizza”.

Weirdest moment: A campaign video which showed his advisor Mark Block telling the camera how great Cain was, while puffing away on a cigarette. The Guardian called it “avant garde performance art”.

Most memorable quotes:

“We need a leader, not a reader.”

[On being asked a question about Libya] “Which one is Libya?”

“When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’” DM



Read more:

  • The rise and fall of Herman Cain, in The Guardian;
  • Herman Cain: how Republicans fell out with their once preferred candidate, in The Guardian.

Photos: REUTERS

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