25 September 2011

On Raising Cain

In the wake of Herman Cain’s decisive victory of the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida, some Sunshine State conservatives have enthused “Cain/Romney ‘12".  Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard dismissed “the Hermanator’s” victory at 37% support as actually a vote for None-of-the-Above.

Straw polls are both entertaining and interesting but not necessary indicative of the eventual nominee.  After all, Rep. Ron Paul  won the CPAC straw poll this February in Washington for the second consecutive year and the PAUListinians pushed their Libertarian leader to a strong second place finish in the Ames Iowa straw poll in August.  But pigs will fly before the 76 year old elder Dr. Paul will be the G.O.P. nominee in 2012.

Straw polls are intended for party enthusiasts rather than the general electorate.  Some straw polls shows a candidate’s organizational ability and willingness to “buy” a victory.  Ames attracts large crowds which a candidate can bolster by bussing in partisans, as Ron Paul has done the last two election cycles.  Another technique is to sponsor a savory “come on”, like tasty barbeque or ice cream on a hot day, to attract people to your tent.  The Florida straw poll differed from this model as participants needed to pay $175 to cast a ballot.  That is a little too rich for most campaign war chests, which lends credence that Cain’s 37% victory shows enthusiasm to Cain’s message.

Another factor which astute political observers ought to consider is how hard a candidate husks for votes in a straw poll.  Despite generally being considered a top tier candidate, former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) did not fight very hard for votes in the Florida straw poll.  Romney participated in the Fox News/Google debate in Orlando and did give a speech before CPAC-Florida but did not work the room on Saturday for support.  Still, the centrist Romney garnered 14% for a third place finish, which is not bad showing among conservative activists.

On the other hand, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) worked very hard for support from conservatives. Yet Perry only scored a second place with a distant 15% support.  What happened? Well, words matter.  During the Google debate, Perry ardently defended his support of a Texas law that gives the children of illegal aliens in-state tuition rates. Perry claimed “I don’t think you have a heart” to critics of this Texas tuition policy.  Perry underlined his political soft spot on illegal immigration, which is contrary to conservatives and Tea Party sensibilities.  But Perry’s sharp riposte alienates those who hold a different primary view.  Moreover, it adds to the meme that Perry’s party switch in 1989 was a matter of convenience.

Gov. Perry has been a successful governor of America’s second most populous state for over ten years. While Perry’s actions on HPV forced vaccinations and in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens may be troublesome topics on his resume, Perry is a solid conservative.  What the GOP electorate needs to determine in the primary process is to whether Perry is the right candidate to unseat President Obama.   Part of Perry’s appeal has been the late riding to the rescue nature of his candidacy.  Perry entered the race in mid-August on the same day of the Ames straw poll and he vaulted past Romney in national surveys.  But Perry’s poor performance in three debates over the last five weeks seems to have slowed the bandwagon support tactic.  Perry must win the support of the Tea Party and conservatives and do well in the Iowa Caucus to be in it to win it.

The big surprise from the Presidency 5 straw poll was the anemic showing of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th). Granted, Bachmann participated in the debate and spoke before CPAC-FL but did not fight hard for votes. While Bachmann won the Ames straw poll with 28% support, she only won 1% of the Florida straw poll.  Part of Bachmann’s appeal in the Hawkeye state may have been a “Favorite Son” phenomenon amongst conservative activists. Yet since Bachmann’s  Ames victory, she has been the center of unflattering coverage from the Lamestream Media.   More importantly, her attempts to score points against Gov. Perry in the last two debates on HPV may have been one too many kicks at the cat.  Bachmann questioned Perry’s Executive Order forcing 12 year old girls to be vaccinated against HPV.  This issue scored points on traditional family values and improper constitutional governance.  As an afterthought, Bachmann noted that Perry’s Guardasil connections stunk of crony capitalism.

Had well enough be left alone, Bachmann would have raised her profile in the media horse race and softened Perry’s support amongst conservatives and Tea Party types.  Unfortunately, Bachmann raised the stakes the day after the Tampa Tea Party debate and charged that the HPV vaccination could cause mental retardation.  Bachmann ham handedly claimed during the Orlando Google debate that she was just quoting a supporter when she parroted a supporter.  The Presidency 5 straw poll results is that Bachmann may no longer be the darling of the Tea Party for the GOP nomination.

Herman Cain made quite a splash in the first debate of the 2012 GOP Primary cycle in South Carolina as the non-politican businessman turned candidate.  Unfortunately Cain seemed to have been pushed towards the back of the bus in coverage by the Lamestream Media which is anxious for a two horse race between a conservative and a centrist.  Cain’s stand out answer during the Orlando Google debate on how Obamacare would have killed him as a stage four cancer patient was personal and poignant.  Cain received a well deserved ovation from the audience as a personal tribute as well as putting a face on the cruelty and inefficiency of government run health care.

Cain had worked CPAC in Washington and put considerable efforts on the Florida straw poll.  But Cain did not just score an “A” for effort.  Cain has based his Presidential run on his “9-9-9" plan and the Chilean model.  Political junkies like those conservatives voting in the Florida straw poll, understand Cain as giving substance to throwing out the current byzantine tax system for a simplified process with a 9% business tax, a 9% income tax and a 9 cent sales tax.  Chile is shorthand for real Social Security reform by following the Chilean paradigm of privatization.

Tax reform and social security reform are big ideas for big problems which America must confront. The electorate needs to be educated as well as convinced on the merits of these plans and then motivated to elect legislators who are committed to enacting the change.  As refreshing as it is to hear a plain talking non-politican candidate offer these ideas, messaging is key.  Cain’s convincing victory in Florida should start the dialogue, but whether Cain’s communication team can change and sustain the serious conversation is questionable.

Unlike Cocktail Party Republicans, I do not dismiss Cain’s victory as actually meaning “None of the Above”.  To me, it means that conservatives are hungry for specifics and real change, not just optics or internecine campaigning. In early September, Romney offered a 59 point plan for reviving the economy, which consists mainly of standard conservative fare, but it has not caught fire in the base.  Alas, during debates, frontrunner perries seemed to be more of a game of gotcha between Perry’s book Fed Up! and Romney’s book No Apology: Believe in America.

In order to beat a well funded incumbent who has a weak economy but a large campaign war chest, Republicans must unite and have a few succinct, discrete messages to overcome the onslaught of negative messages and ad hominem attacks emanating from the Oval Office, the liberal stenographers in the Lamestream Media and Obama 2012's Chicago headquarters.

Now is the time for vetting GOP nominees. The conservative base has rejected a premature two-candidate horse race and seems to yearn concise, forward looking campaign issues.  There may still be openings for more candidates, but that window will soon be closing.  North Eastern Country Club conservatives keep touting Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) as a presidential candidate. And the prospect of former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) jumping into the race is a lightning rod for the right and the left.  Filing deadlines are soon approaching so even an unconventional candidacy will have to announce soon.

With his landslide victory in the Florida straw poll, Herman Cain laid waste to Morgan Freeman's assertion that the Tea Party are a bunch of racists.  Moreover, Cain’s raised Presidential profile may merit him more than a one dimensional punch line about “Herman Cain delivers” on the opening skit of the 37th season of Saturday Night Live.

While Herman Cain himself may not be the ultimate messenger nor are the specifics of the message written in stone but by raising Cain,  Republicans find their way to victory in November 2012

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