Hermania

How long will Hermania last ? Does Mitt Romney have to worry? These questions define the GOP primary race now, since there are no fantasy candidates left to hope for. The anti-Romney vote has shifted from Rick Perry to Herman Cain, and everyone is waiting to see if the party will make history and abandon its tradition of nominating the next-in-line, last-time-loser in favor of the phenomenon known as the Herminator.
 
It would be hard for Cain to be more appealing — he's accomplished, charming, plainspoken, at ease and funny. You want him to win. He hasn't been a mayor or governor or even served in a legislature, but he wants the hardest job in the world, to lead a nation in crisis.

Cain has made several great jokes — some have been delightful retorts during debates — but others, about foreign policy and immigration, make you kinda wonder. Walking back a comment about killing illegals on an electrified fence is exactly the kind of misstep that could send Cain to the back of the pack — a few more of them and he won't be taken seriously.

His response to David Gregory on "Meet the Press" about his immigration "joke" was that it was not a serious proposal and America needs a sense of humor. In an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, Cain said, "When they ask me who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm going to say, you know, 'I don't know. Do you know?' And then I'm going to say, 'How's that going to create one job?' " It's fun and defiant and anti-establishment, but not presidential whatsoever. Cain is basically saying that he doesn't think such matters are worthy of serious consideration for someone seeking the presidency.

Cain's 9-9-9 economic plan — to scrap the tax code and replace it with a 9 percent corporate tax, 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent national sales tax — doesn't sound so conservative under the spotlight. Many small-government conservatives wonder just how soon it would take for Congress to grow those taxes. Middle-class workers wonder what the appeal is when the plan would reportedly raise taxes on lower and middle-income earners while cutting taxes for the wealthy. When pressed by Gregory, Cain didn't deny that a new sales tax would come on top of existing state sales taxes.

Cain is raising money, hiring staff and has changed his mind about actually campaigning in the early primary states he has thus far ignored. We should know pretty soon if he can give Romney a run for his money.


CAN CAIN GO ALL THE WAY? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, Oct. 18. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.