Opinion: What the Cain Train Derailment Means for the GOP Field

Sunday, December 04, 2011 - 09:40 AM

Herman Cain Campaigns In South Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

In suspending his campaign Saturday, onetime presidential contender, short flash-in-the-pan, and former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain thundered, “I’m not going away!” Here's why that might not be such a good thing for the other GOP candidates.

First off, Cain's appeal as an outsider was undeniable; The Washington Post summarized Cain’s rise thusly

Cain attracted large crowds who were drawn to his straightforward style, folksy sayings (“Awwww shucky ducky now!”) and affability. More than once, he delighted crowds by breaking into song. Released in the midst of his presidential run, his latest book — “This Is Herman Cain!” — became a bestseller.

While his personal story is admirable, many wondered if a common guy with almost no knowledge about economics (his 9-9-9 plan was dismissed as dangerous and unworkable) or foreign policy (he could not remember Libya) was an acceptable choice for president of the most powerful country on Earth.

At a ridiculously suspenseful event in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, Cain paraded his smiling and waving wife behind him and addressed the expectant national news media and a crowd of supporters.

By suspending his campaign he has effectively dropped out of the race, but by not dropping out officially, he can continue to travel the country giving speeches and insert himself into the presidential contest. He can also continue to raise and spend money until declaring a formal end to the campaign, which is the recognized status in Federal Election Commission rules.

Who will benefit from Cain’s departure? Newt Gingrich has been most frequently mentioned. Here was Gingrich’s statement after the Cain flameout.

Herman Cain’s 999 plan got our country talking about the critical issue of how to reform our tax code and he elevated the dialogue of the Republican presidential primary in the process. I am proud to know Herman Cain and consider him a friend. I know from having worked with him for more than a decade he will continue to be a powerful voice in the conservative movement for years to come.

However, hold your horses because there is also interesting information from polls that suggest Mitt Romney could also benefit from Cain’s bowing out.
A Pew poll taken shortly before Thanksgiving showed that Cain supporters are split evenly between the Mitt Romney and Gingrich when they were asked for their second choice.

Of course everyone wants the Cain followers - Rep. Michele Bachmann's spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, said, “We have received numerous calls and e-mails from his supporters, and we are happy to have them.”

Iowa Cain campaign workers were in shock at his new headquarters in Des Moines where a truckload of huge Cain yard signs had just arrived. This all highlighted the unorganized and quirky nature of the rise of Cain from a novelty to frontrunner in the GOP field. His demise was no less unorthodox, teasing the media until the last minute with a huge stage, music, and the unveiling of his national headquarters in Atlanta only to bow out.

I was taken aback by how many folks dismissed the changes against Cain and his lack of experience in politics. Sexual harassment has already taken its toll in the GOP with women voters and to ignore that is, it seems to me, to be reinforcing the gender gap the GOP has been trying to overcome since 2008.

I was at an event on Saturday in a small town here in Iowa and people were for the most part annoyed at how Cain handled this retreat. “It was disrespectful to his followers and the media to play this game of 'guess what I’m about to do,'” said one. Another Iowa sage averred, “By not ending his campaign he will be a pain for the other candidates, hovering around and creating a huge distraction.”

Given Cain’s gaffes and the impact of his harassment and affair its not likely that other candidates will be very happy to have Cain endorse them, which he threatened to do. Clearly Newt Gingrich does not need voters to be reminded of nasty affairs and adultery. So it’s clear that the GOP field will welcome Cain supporters but the Hermanator himself, not so much.  

My own calculus is that with Cain’s departure the 2012 GOP race for the White House is tightening to a contest between Romney and Gingrich. Although Ron Paul supporters will hate me for saying this, since they feel that he’s got momentum as well. Inevitably, the field of eight contenders has to shrink.

The national poll of registered voters by Majority Opinion Research asked respondents, If the Republican presidential nomination process were a TV reality show, which candidate would you vote off the program first?" In that poll, Michelle Bachmann and Cain were voted off first.  Next were Huntsman, Gingrich, Paul and Perry, followed by Romney and Santorum. As the process begins in reality, we'll be following the dynamics closely.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register and WNYC “It’s a Free Country,” and is chief political correspondent for


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Comments [2]

Ed Kelly from LONDON, UK

As a former Iowan myself, who was a past candidate for state-wide office there I found the withdrawal less than satisfying. Assuming the worst about the allegations of past alleged hijinks claimed to have been perpetrated by Herman Cain, they appear on an identical par with those of two-term US President Bill Clinton. A different result, more favorable to the one resulting for Cain, might have been possible had he followed the example of former US President Richard Nixon in his response to scandal in the early 1950's. In that case, Nixon said he would step aside if voters requested him to drop out; Cain could have done similarly by asking for voter's phone and internet responses, and agreed to drop out or continue his appeal based upon the response to his emotional appeal.

Dec. 04 2011 11:10 PM
stan chaz from Brooklyn

The circus.....goes on and on and on. And the guy who is twice divorced and had an extra-marital affair with his current wife hopes to gain the most from this. Amazing! More than ever, as I look at the sorry set of Republican “rivals” on the other side, I am THANKFUL to have Barack Obama as President, and as a viable candidate for re-election. Mr. Obama: your heart, your values, and your basic decency are all in the right place. BUT...your hands are tied. Unfortunately they were tied by us, the electorate.....when we failed to provide you with a Congress that you can work with. Instead, you are saddled with a don’t-tax-the-1%-do-nothing Congress that battles you at every turn, while the people suffer. God, they don't EVEN let you pass your own appointments. It's not Tea-publican gridlock -it's Tea-publican sabotage. Heck, it's Tea-publican treason....while the 99% BLEEDS. And then they try to pin the blame on Mr. Obama. These people have no shame...or else its been purchased by those who can afford to do so. In her last years, Grandma gets her meager Social Security check, and they DARE to call it “socialism”. Give me a break! (and Grandma too!) Thankfully, with Occupy Wall Street, America has found its voice: a voice that reminds us that people -ordinary down-to-earth working people- really DO matter. Not “corporations are people -people” , but REAL people! Tea-publicans want even MORE 1%-tax-break-corporate-loopholes....while these “job-creators” send our jobs overseas, and wish that we’d go away too.... as they buy every politician in sight. And if these politicians don’t have ENOUGH mistresses, I can hook them up with a few gorgeous -and rich!- oil companies. It would be a perfect blind date, except for the fact that they’re ALREADY in bed with them :-). But instead of talking about LESS government, and LESS taxes on the 1%, and MORE corporate welfare, and MORE painful cuts to those who can LEAST afford it....Occupy is a voice that demands a government that WORKS, a government that works FOR ALL OF US, not just for a favored few....not just for the rich. It’s a voice that comes up from the grassroots, and lifts us up in turn: because it insists that this land IS our land...and that we WANT IT BACK! It's a voice that will help us re-elect the President AND give him a more progressive people-oriented Congress to work with. Mr. Obama: I wish you well.... because you STILL give us hope!

Dec. 04 2011 10:57 PM

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