Why Cain Was Never Going to be President – and Why Gingrich Won’t Be Either
I find myself quite puzzled by a question asked throughout the blogosphere this weekend. That question is why Herman Cain, so recently the darling of the right, has been forced to fold up tent and retreat back to minor celebrity status. And when I say puzzled, I mean to say puzzled that anyone is even bothering to ask the question at all.
Michael Tomasky argues that Cain’s own ego tripped him up, noting that since Cain is the kind of guy who gives himself his own nickname (The Hermanator!) his hubris acts as a kind of tragic flaw. S.E. Cupp blames Cain’s inability to paint himself as a leader instead of a victim in the wake of scandals and embarrassing sound bites. Erik Erickson does seem to see Cain as a victim, believing the Cain campaign’s apparent failure is more of a “failure of the professional political class.” Howard Kurtz suggests that it was many things, including poor organization. These observations, standing on their own, are all true enough. But all of them miss the real and more obvious reason that Herman Cain fell so quickly from grace, which is this:
Herman Cain was a terrible, terrible candidate for the office of President of the United States. And so were all those shooting stars that preceded him.
We have a tendency to forget this, because we got carried away and lavished so much attention on Cain for a while there. But he was never a serious candidate. He was many other things, of course. He was great TV and therefore a ratings booster. He was likable, having an undeniable charm. But he was never, ever going to be President. He could have hired a crackerjack campaign staff and lucked out that his dalliances never came to light, and he still would have been a historical footnote. At the end of the day he had no vision, no plan, no experience, and – I remain convinced – no desire to hold the highest office in the land.
A better question than why he failed, then, might be why on Earth did we ever give him any attention at all?
Cain’s surge resembled Perry’s and Bachmann’s in some rather substantial ways: Each was embraced and pushed by the media before most Americans had any idea who they really were. Each were touted as the perfect conservative candidate, and the very image of whatever every person who wants a conservative candidate thinks that should look like. Each blissfully skyrocketed in that brief period of time between the moment the conservative media told America they were awesomely perfect, and the moment the country really started to get to know them. And finally, each was ultimately faced with the reality that once Americans got a chance to meet them, Americans agreed that they were nice folks – the salt of the Earth, really – but not even close to who they wanted to sit in the oval office.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but in retrospect it should have been easy for anyone to see that Perry is not a nimble thinker and wasn’t going to improve anytime soon. Or that Bachmann’s views on foreign policy and cultural issues are a little – shall we say – outside the mainstream. Or that Cain was so under-qualified to even be on those prime time stages as to be cringeworthy.
Why then, did we waste our time?
There will be those that say the problem is that Mitt Romney just can’t “seal the deal,” that his inability to properly woo the GOP base allows for all this media puppy love for each new candidate de jour. And there is certainly some truth to this. As many have noted before me, if you bought a generic “US President Doll” it would look like Mitt when you took it out of the box. Were he even somewhat palatable to the base this race would already be long over. But it still doesn’t explain why we even briefly showered these other folks with the kind of giddy, giggly crushes that 7th grade girls reserve for the male leads of Twilight.
It’s hard to think that cable news and talk radio aren’t largely to blame. Their success (and profits) rely on ratings, which of course rely on controversy and conflict. Watching Mitt constantly ask the base how they want him to answer the next question of the day gets boring after a while, and is a sure recipe for viewers switching over to CSI or Law & Order reruns. But what if there were a savior waiting in the wings – some Republican scion with destiny draped around his or her solid and attractive frame – that could come in and magically fix everything if only we could convince them to run? That speculation is good for two or three solid weeks of solid ratings right there; and it only gets better when our hero finally and humbly agrees to leave their happy lives to make the ultimate sacrifice of becoming the world’s most powerful person “for the people.” Are they laughably unqualified? Who cares? Think of all the hours of programming you can build on the way “those jackals in the media” are spreading lies and gotcha questions to sully our hero’s good name. Their extreme lacking will catch up eventually, of course, but this discovery just provides the best ratings boosts of all. Gaffes, scandals, skeletons in closets… it’s all manna in the world of political media. Really, is there anything that doesn’t flee from the police in a white SUV that is more made for cable news and talk radio than gaffes, scandals and skeletons in closets?
If the GOP base is smart they will recognize this, and recognize it quickly. Their new top guy is certainly more qualified to win the 2012 prize than those that have played Icarus before him. But that’s not saying much.
Regardless of what the left might say, Newt Gingrich is a bright guy and a pretty talented orator. But he isn’t the modern-day da Vinci the right media machine is making him out to be, and that will show through soon enough. Worse, he thinks like the House whip he was for so many years. He is more inclined to try to gain support by being negative and mean-spirited than by being positive and taking the high road. Newt’s natural style may tickle the base in December of 2011, but it will turn off everyone else in November of 2012.
Because at the end of the day, Newt isn’t any more electable for this land’s highest office than any of those other shooting stars. The only question remaining in my mind is, does he crash and burn at Romney’s feet – or Obama’s? The GOP base would be wise to recognize it would be better for them to watch him to flame out sooner rather than later.