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Why Herman Cain is the new Sarah Palin

Updated on November 4, 2011

Around the same time that the Herman Cain's sex scandal hit the airwaves there was another story that hit around the same time. This one was about the funneling of money from a non-profit to Herman Cain's campaign and the breaking of a number of campaign laws. This was similar to violations that Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, had been accused of previously and if true would be a much more serious charge then the allegations of sexual harassment that have swirled around him. Despite the fact that the violations of campaign finance law, if true, would be a much bigger story, the media doesn't care about it. Sex scandals sell more papers and get higher ratings, so if we do hear about the campaign finance scandal again, it will likely be in the general election or Mark Block will fall on his sword in order to try and keep Cain from being implicated in what his campaign has been up to.

I bring this up for two reasons. The first is that despite what you hear from many on the right, the media is actually doing Herman Cain a favor by focusing on this sex scandal rather than on his campaign finance scandal. My second point is that this scandal is actually helping Cain and that while he is personally making analogies to Clarence Thomas, I can't help but be reminded of Sarah Palin.

Like Palin, Cain was a relative unknown who suddenly came into the national Republican spotlight. Like Palin, Cain is dynamic and likable, bubbling with charisma and humor. Like Palin, Cain is a member of a "minority group" and can get away with saying things that would be considered outrageously offensive if a white male would say them. And finally, like Palin, Cain is a constant source of controversy, scandal and gaffes that he nonsensically blames on the media, racism and even other Republicans in attempts to make himself a professional victim. Like Palin, Cain represents the mindset of the Tea Party Republicans, who feels that their country has been taken from them by minorities and liberals. In short, Herman Cain is what Sarah Palin used to be and he isn't going anywhere, no matter how the Democrats and even some in the Republican establishment have smugly declared him to be a "flavor of the week."

The reasons that we have seen so many front runners rise and fall does not apply to Cain. The first front runner that Cain is compared to is Donald Trump. But Trump was never even really in the race. The only reason he did so well in polls is because he is so famous. Michelle Bachman also isn't analogous to Cain. While she tried to grab the same base of support that Cain now has, and she said a number of crazy things but Bachman, when called on her bull, looks like a deer in the headlights. When Cain has his views questioned, even when they don't make sense, he cops an attitude at the interviewer and then claims later that he was set up or the victim of bias media. (like Palin.) Rick Perry lost his front runner status when he said children of illegal immigrants deserved the opportunity for an education and cemented it through a series of embarrassing debate performances. The one thing we don't have to worry about with Herman Cain is that he will show sympathy for the poor or marginalized, or that he will not be so in love with the sound of his own voice that he will be at a loss for words.

This may bring up the question, do I think Cain will win the nomination? Let me just say that I have a horrible track record at this. I picked John McCain in 2000, and Mike Huckabee in 2008. In the Democratic primary of 2004 I picked Wesley Clark. My only win at predicting was saying that Obama would be the nominee in 2008 for the Democrats and I almost lost at that one too. What I will say is that Cain has a much better chance than either right or left wing pundits generally think.

Cain supporters do not care about the facts. I argue frequently with people who don't believe that Cain's 9-9-9 plan will raise their taxes.

Cain says things constantly that are inconsistent nonsense, heartless and cruel and just poison in the general election if he were to get the nomination. The problem with this as a predictor of his chances of winning the nomination is that he has taken all of these hits. He already survived attacks on his 9-9-9 plan from other Republicans. He has already survived not knowing anything about foreign policy and his abortion stance that makes no sense. Seven out of ten Republicans say his sexual harassment allegations do not matter and now he is stronger than ever. Both establishment Republicans and Democrats need to face the fact that, win or lose, Herman Cain is here to stay. Like Palin, he will be a voice in the Tea Party movement even if he never runs for another elected office.

One of the odd things about many voters is that we want our politicians to be better than us and just like us at the same time. To the average Tea Party supporter, Herman Cain is just like them. His views are just like theirs. He came from modest means and just like them he doesn't know anything about being President. This is a bonus for them. He is just like them, but has become very rich and successful. For the Tea Party he fits the mold of better than me but just like me at the same time. This was the same thing that helped Sarah Palin. Republican supporters of Palin were more likely to mention her ideological passion and "hotness" than they were to say anything about her ability to be President. Cain supporters will talk about his business success and will ignore the fact that he doesn't know a thing about how our government works or what the President actually does. After all, he is just like them on that score.

Already you see the Republican establishment starting to think that they created a monster with the Tea Party. Fox News getting rid of Glenn Beck and toning down their rhetoric in light of the failure to take the Senate in 2010 has been evidence of that, and the outright dismissal that Cain could win from every right wing pundit from Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly is even more. There is a definite rift in the Republican party and nobody knows how it will play out.

Flat out, Romney still has the advantage. But the idea that it is a 90% probability that he will be the nominee is just some shallow conventional wisdom. I think it is closer to 60-40 between him and Cain. Perry or any other candidate could not stage a comeback at this point. Only a complete flame out by Cain could possibly help another candidate and then it would almost certainly lead to Romney winning. Romney's main competition is actually Huntsman to get the moderate vote, and maybe some establishment Republicans are still hanging on to Gingrich but most of the other candidates are really taking votes away from the more conservative Cain.

Here is a possible scenario. The first Caucus is Iowa, Romney and Cain are in a statistical tie. If the passion of Cain's supporters win out then he will almost certainly win South Carolina, where he is way ahead, and lose New Hampshire to Romney. (where he is way ahead.) At this point it is very possible that Bachman and Santorum will drop out. With both Florida and Nevada in statistical ties between Cain and Romney, the loss of those two social conservatives will help Cain more than Romney and he could win four out of five early states. Note that the next caucus in Maine also shows Cain ahead in the polls and that Cain is in a statistical tie with Perry in Texas and is ahead in Ohio, which will vote on Super Tuesday.

In this possible scenario, Cain would not only beat Romney but annihilate him. Of course Romney could win Iowa and New Hampshire and then swing the momentum his way. A lot will depend on at what point Bachman, Santorum, Gingrich and Perry end up leaving the race. (both Paul and Huntsmen are running largely symbolic campaigns and will likely stay in the race.)

It is completely possible that Romney might blow out Cain by Super Tuesday or vice versa, or that the race may come down to a close race between the both of them by then. To deny that Cain COULD win is just stupid. Some use race as a reason why he can't win but this is pretty absurd based on anything but an outdated model of party politics. Cain is the most popular in the South and if a black man can win in the South then he is competitive.

Of course if Cain does pull off the upset and wins the nomination it will be a huge victory for the Tea Party. And probably more importantly, for the President.


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