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Robert L. Cavnar Headshot

Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

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All along I've never bought Herman Cain's non-campaign campaign for President.  I've believed from the beginning that he's playing Republican primary voters for suckers, selling books and raising his profile to raise his motivational speaking fees, a' la Sarah Palin.  I've believed his campaign was fake, not only by the behavior of the candidate himself, but by his organization's action (or lack of it).  We all know that, like it or not, presidential primaries are won on the ground.  In 2008, Barack Obama came out of nowhere in Iowa by having a very large and sophisticated organization on the ground, who worked the caucus system hard and won.  In contrast, this year, Cain has virtually no ground game in the early primary states, and is even campaigning in other states, like Alabama, that doesn't vote until Super Tuesday (after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida).  In fact, Cain has hardly even been in Iowa, the make-or-break state for his campaign.  I'll say this bluntly; Herman Cain is not, and never has been, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, and anyone who gives him money or takes him seriously is a mullet. 

Why is he doing this?  Because it works.  Just look at other non-candidates, Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump.  By pretending to run for President, they've raised their public profiles among people who will buy their books and/or watch their television shows.  Palin has become a multi-millionaire with her aggrieved-faithful-Christian-woman-fisherman-moose-hunter-schtick, Gingrich has kept his image alive by pretending to be an elder statesman, and Trump's reality show ratings top the charts.  The strategy is brazen, dishonest, cynical, and...wait for it...effective.

Cain's campaign book tour came to a screeching halt yesterday when a sexual harassment scandal engulfed the candidate author.  By now, we've all heard the story, that in the 1990's Cain was accused by at least 2 women of inappropriate sexual behavior when he was chairman of the Restaurant Association of America.  Even though his campaign book tour staff was aware of Politico's investigation, it appeared yesterday that they were totally unprepared to answer very basic questions about the issue, falling back to the guilty politicians' usual non-response responses.  In 24 hours, Cain went from knowing nothing about the harassment charges to vaguely remembering the incidents last night on Fox News.

The fact that the incidents occurred and money for silence was paid, though very serious, are not Cain's real problem, at least now.  Cain's real problem is that his speaking fees and book sales are at risk.  His number one goal in this public charade was to make money.  He was doing that, of course, by oddly running in the role of rich-man-as-populist, pushing all his audiences' hot buttons that are the favorites of social conservatives.

All this noise, though, threatens the value of Cain's brand.  Like Trump, who ended his publicity tour when it became clear that he was not running (and couldn't run with all of his closets full of financial skeletons), and Palin, who simply wore out her welcome, Cain will now fade into the background unless he somehow gets immediately on top of this scandal.  The only way he can do that, by the way, is for all the allegations to be false and for Politico to have made all of this up, which is not plausible.  I believe that Cain will shortly end the campaign book tour to "spend more time with his family" or fade to the corner of the stage, along with Gingrich, whose campaign book tour continues.

Such is the state of electoral politics today.  The only reason these fakes get away with this strategy is that they are smart (or have smart handlers) and take advantage of their constituencies' hopes and dreams to cynically make money.  And, it's our own damn fault for letting them get away with it.