The demise of Herman Cain

The presidential campaign of Herman Cain is now history and a wild ride it was.  An “also ran” when the campaign began, he took off like a rocket, and despite arrows from the liberal establishment, or maybe because of them, he soared above the GOP field until he was laid low by charges, rumors and just plain sophomore mistakes. The outcome of few races are inevitable and Cain’s implosion certainly was not inevitable.  Here are a couple of things he could have done to change the result.

GET SOME COMPETENT HELP.  A presidential campaign requires a full cast but Cain’s effort was a one-man performance from the beginning.  He had no committee of wise men, few committed fundraisers and no staff that had ever been involved in a national effort.  His staff had no experience with the pressures of a national campaign -- hence were of no help to the candidate when the tough times came.  A green staff and a green candidate who had run statewide only once previously couldn’t handle the pressures of the national microscope candidates are constantly under.   In politics, experience really does matter.

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ANTICIPATE THE INEVITABLE.  Why do so many candidates in this day and age assume that past personal problems will not surface?  The days of JFK when the press looked the other way over martial rumors and personal problems are long gone.  When the first stories of women accusing him of sexual harassment were being prepared by the press the Cain campaign had over a week to consider the situation and devise an appropriate strategy.  Their comical efforts strongly suggest that they never considered the possibility of such a story or how to deal with it.  Smart campaigns anticipate personal problems, and get ahead of them by dealing with them on their own terms.  This is a reflection on poor staffing but also the inexperience and naiveté of the candidate himself.

DON’T LOSE FOCUS.  Cain indeed led the national polls for 30 or so glorious days, but he lost focus on what really mattered, namely the early primary states.  Parties do not elect nominees in national primaries and early public opinion polls of Republicans nationwide are mostly meaningless.  Cain seemed to be in a fog as he jetted around the country, selling books and campaigning in places that are not nearly as important as the crucial early states.  He was MIA in Iowa for several months.  He never built on potential opportunity states such as South Carolina. Jimmy Ruffin’s line in his Motown hit “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” comes to mind: “Always moving but going nowhere.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  In the end, Cain was done in by a limited knowledge of how to deal with the pressing problems facing America.  His 9-9-9 Economic Plan captured the public’s imagination for its daring and simplicity, but he was never able to build on that good beginning.  He was unable to defend it in concept against attacks that it was regressive and would require the middle class to pay more in taxes.  Worse, his knowledge of foreign policy was sorely lacking.  His attempt to provide even a basic policy position on key countries such as China and Libya convinced many that he just wasn’t up to the job of being president.  That’s a basic threshold that any serious candidate has to attain to win a national election. 

Herman Cain rose to become the leading Republican presidential candidate because he offered a rationale and hope for fundamental change in America. He was not able to sustain his message and was ultimately laid low because of personal and staff shortcomings.  But his constituency is still available to another candidate who can convince Republicans and Independents that he or she has a vision take the country in a fundamentally different direction from the course that we are on.

Donatelli is Chairman of GOPAC, the center for training and electing the next generation of Republican leaders and served as the Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential elections.