Herman Cain's upset victory in the Republican Party of Florida's straw poll has political watchers wondering what happened; but the explanation is rather simple.
Before explaining the Cain factor, back up a few weeks to the Iowa straw poll where soon-to-be-former candidate Michele Bachmann won that state's less meaningful poll. But despite Iowa's "sold to the highest bidder" reputation, the win for Bachmann was an upset the more established candidates shouldn't have ignored. How does a wing-nut, fringe candidate with little money and even less sense appeal to enough people to win?
Although flawed, Iowa's straw poll can't be completely discounted as irrelevant. Creating a following takes money, and money only comes when people believe in something you are saying.
Bachmann's Iowa victory and brief moments in the limelight came because despite the fact that she's nuttier than a pecan pie, she communicates her rhetoric in a manner that is real. In other words, she believes her nonsense. And so did enough other believers who share her views and sent her some money.
But the frontrunners didn't believe that the believers are looking for someone who is also a believer. Translation: voters are looking for someone who calls a socialist president a socialist, not whatever euphemistic poll-tested answer Mitt Romney calls President Obama.
Mitt and Rick didn't get the post-Iowa message and continued operating their campaigns how their D.C. handlers told them to run.
Fast forward to last Thursday night at the GOP debate in Orlando. The two establishment candidates, Romney and Perry, engaged in little more than platitudes about their plans for the nation, and a few barbs at the other guy (or attempted barbs as in Perry's case) for good measure. Meanwhile, a few podiums to the right Herman Cain was delivering honest answers to serious questions.
The audience roared when Cain talked of his 9-9-9 plan for reforming the nation's tax code, and when he fingered establishment stooge Romney for failing to give a straight answer to the question about who on the stage he would consider worthy to be selected as his vice president.
Romney of course did everything right that night. He gave short, soundbite ready answers to most questions; he smiled uncomfortably when he didn't really want to smile; and he limited details of his ideas and referred voters to some obscure campaign manifesto that serves as good cover for having real plans and intellect in a TV-driven media environment. Yes, Romney did everything right -- if you like poll-tested soundbites and politicians who do everything the way it has always been done.
Enter Herman Cain
On the stage at the debate, nine people stood with scores of years of experience in elective office. Among them, Herman Cain was the only one who has never been elected to office. Not once. Never. Not even for the proverbial dog catcher. Herman Cain is not a career politician.
In fact, Cain's lack of experience is an asset, because despite their good intentions, every politician no matter the size, scope, or importance of the office is in some way, shape or form, corrupted by their power, however limited said power may be. That corruption serves to make them think they are invincible, above the law, and omnipotent. To make matters worse, while being corrupted, they get surrounded by people who worship them and tell them how good their bad breath smells, and they pass laws exempting themselves from the laws they make us live by -- like going through airport security for example (Congressmen are exempt).
Meanwhile the pollsters, political strategists and media consultants advise the candidates on everything from what color tie to wear, not to wear their expensive watch, what shoes to wear, how to smile (and when not to smile), how to walk, how to shake hands, when to look at your opponent during a debate (in Perry's case they must have told him never), and so on.
Somewhere during the how-to-appear sessions, they get briefed on what to say and how to say it. This boils down to bullet points on issues such as taxes, foreign policy and defense, Social Security, and education reform. "Zinger" lines like the one neophyte to the national stage Gary Johnson delivered on Thursday night (about his neighbor's two dogs creating more shovel-ready jobs than Barack Obama) are usually poll tested, practiced, refined and then practiced again and again so that they become as rote as Santa Clause saying "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Johnson's line by the way, while true, wasn't exactly Johnson's line. According to Johnson, a radio station in his home state was soliciting zingers for Johnson to consider all week leading up to the debate. A creative listener sent in the "my neighbor's two dogs" line to the station which forwarded it and others to the Johnson campaign (which probably consists solely of Gary Johnson). He liked it and made it work. And the only thing different about Johnson and the line's "authenticity" or "in-authenticity " as the case may be, is Johnson was completely honest about how he got it. If Romney or Perry had delivered that line they would have never owned up to having gotten the line from a radio station listener.
In his delivery of the line, Johnson read most of it, but despite not being prepared to dish it out off the cuff, he found the right moment, and read it with great affect. Sometimes candidates can be over-practiced and rehearsed. This was the case with Rick Perry's failed attempt to nail Mitt Romney as the biggest flip-flopper in the GOP (which he is by the way).
The Cain difference
Understanding how it normally works helps understand why Herman Cain was so successful. He rejected a lot of the traditional advice candidates receive, and then take, while lying down like an obedient dog waiting for its master to drop a Milk Bone on the floor.
I'm not suggesting Cain doesn't have pollsters, consultants and people who think they know a lot more about how to get elected than he does on his staff. But the fact that he says, does, and delivers a lot more substance than fluff tells me Cain must have been one hell of a CEO who marched to his own drum -- and apparently a lot of GOP activists in Florida are itching for someone to represent them in the White House who isn't a polished, overly-coiffed, poll-tested Hollywood version of what a presidential candidate ought to look like.
There were two such individuals on the stage last Thursday night and thanks to Herman Cain, they're licking their wounds and trying to figure out how to be more like the Cain-ernator. Trouble is, voters would see through their bull when at the next debate if Mitt Romney's hair was what actually grey, not Grecian formula black. Or if Rick Perry's pollster told him voters prefer Mickey Mouse bedroom slippers over cowboy boots when on the campaign trail, guess what Rick Perry would be wearing at the next debate? Fortunately voters appear to be getting smarter.
Thanks for being the real deal Mr. Cain. That's why you won the straw poll.
Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of Irreverent View. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, and National Review online. He writes a column for the Tampa Tribune and is the Republican political analyst for Bay News 9, the only 24 hour all news channel in Florida's largest media market. The opinions expressed here are those of author and do not represent the views of Bay News 9. E-mail him at: Chris@IrreverentView.com.