Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Herman Cain's troubles and the Republican Party's troubles with Cain

Ryan Lizza calls Herman Cain The Fringe Frontrunner New Yorker 10/31/2011

The Republican Party has a problem. Herman Cain, a man who was living a comfortable life as a motivational speaker but who, like many public figures, harbored fantasies of becoming President, has taken over his party’s nomination process. Cain experts disagree over whether Cain genuinely believes he can and will be President (a minority opinion, though one held by people close to him) or whether the entire enterprise is simply a financial venture to increase his speaking fees gone horribly awry (the majority view).

Either way, Cain represents the emergence of a truly new phenomenon in Presidential politics: the fringe frontrunner.
But this is true not so much in ideology, although Lizza describes it in terms of ideology; Cain's policy preferences don't differ that much from the other non-Papa-Doc-Paul candidates. Lizza writes:

... in addition to the allegations of scandal, Cain has barely thought through his views of the world and has little knowledge of the many issues serious Presidential candidates face. In our strange system for choosing a President, this has not always been a handicap for a fringe candidate. But we are witnessing the next great upheaval in our politics: at a moment when everyone would like simpler answers to a tough set of problems, Republicans are rallying around the Chauncey Gardiner of the G.O.P.

Cain's "fringe" quality is that his role in the Presidential primaries has been as a Republican minstrel show, a "routine that is prefaced on denigrating the intelligence and dignity of African Americans for the glee, approval, and entertainment of white conservatives." (Chauncey DeVega, John McWhorter's Defense of Herman Cain's Race Minstrelsy ... WARN 10/25/2011. DeVega defines "the reason d'etre of race minstrelsy" this way: "The black mask was precisely a fantasy role that validated the fantasies of white supremacy at the expense of African American personhood and humanity."

But it's become a problem for the Republicans that Cain's clown act has become so popular. Charles P. Pierce with his usually pungent style of commentary writes about The Source of Herman Cain's Sexual Harassment Troubles Esquire Politics Blog 10/31/2011:

... the appearance of this story smells extraordinarily of mackerel. Cain becomes the bubble of the week. Almost immediately, Karl Rove dedicates the past two weeks to teeing up Herman Cain on the teevee. And it is not like Rove, to name only the most conspicuous character, is without friends and contacts in the National Restaurant Association. (Some scrolling required.) According to the good folks at the Center For Responsive Politics, we also discover that the National Restaurant Association has retained not only the lobbying firm founded by former Republican National chairman Haley Barbour and former Bush I hired hand Ed Rogers, but also another high-powered lobbying firm, Mehlman, Vogel, and Castignetti, the first two of whom had long careers as Republican congressional aides and operatives before hanging out the shingle. No real surprise, of course, but it does indicate that the Republican establishment — or that which remains of it — has decided that Herman Cain's free ride has ended. It's becoming a bit clearer that the Republican primary process may consist of lashing the party's entire base to a chair and forcing them all to listen to Mitt Romney long enough for the Stockholm Syndrome to take over.

You might argue that someone has acted on principle, that someone thought that the nation needed this information in order to make an informed decision. If that's the case, then why didn't anyone try to strangle the whole campaign in its crib by releasing this a month or two ago? The only way this makes sense is as something that someone kept in their pocket until they needed it. And, in dealing with a party in which Karl Rove is a power, I choose not to believe in coincidence.
I know it's hardly a revelation that Politico does sloppy journalism. But the specifics can be important. And ProPublica's Stephen Engelberg points out how sloppy Poltico's Cain-sexual-harassment story was in Raising Cain: When Is a Scoop Ready to be Published? 10/31/2011:

If the facts as published were part of a memo to Politico’s editors, they would amount to a first-rate tip on a story. If Cain turns out to be a serial harasser, it will surely tarnish his image as the 2012 campaign’s most likable fresh face. ...

But in this case, it remains unclear whether this was merely a great tip or an actual bombshell. I respect Politico’s decision to keep the names of the women out of this, although they will surely emerge. Yet, the basic details of this "harassment" are essential so readers can judge its significance.
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