Monday, September 26, 2011

Herman Cain: who is his base?

Herman Cain's surprising win at the Florida straw poll begs the question: who are the people in his base?

Straw polls are often discounted in their meaningfulness, when it comes to the general election, since candidates can easily "stack the deck" by successfully lobbying a relatively small group of people. Looking at the results from Republican straw polls in 2011, this should be pretty obvious. Cumulatively, Ron Paul is out in front, followed by Romney, Bachmann, and Cain.

That said, the Florida straw poll has some history, when it comes to the eventual nominee:
...Florida's Republican Party had noted that since 1979 every winner of the Florida straw poll has gone on to become the party's nominee. Senator John McCain won it in the 2008 cycle and defeated Romney to become the nominee.
Common sense--as employed by political pundits--suggests that this streak is coming to an end, since Herman Cain has no chance of winning the nomination. Right?

Or maybe he does have a chance. Byron York argues that Cain's win in Florida was a consequence of enough people saying "I like Cain, but he can't win," to the point that they began to believe maybe he could win:
What had happened?  In the days before the vote, nearly all the delegates who voted for Cain either said or heard someone else say this: "I love Herman Cain, but he can't get elected."  The assumption that Cain can't win the Republican nomination was a serious obstacle in their minds.  But at some point late Friday and early Saturday, the delegates overcame that obstacle.  Some concluded that since they had heard so many people speak well of Cain, he could indeed win, if everyone who liked him would actually vote for him.  Others remained skeptical of Cain's ultimate chances but decided to send the message that they would choose candidates based on conservative principles, and not on perceived electability.
But who are these people? Establishment Republicans, the former water-carriers for McCain and Bush? Reaganites, dreaming of a return to a mythical Golden Age? Tea party activists that somehow have set aside their collective racism?

Again, the "common sense" of the pundits suggests that the first group is all-in for Romney, the second group is split on Gingrich and Bachmann, and the third group is split--due to social issues--on Perry and Paul. And again, that "common sense" holds that the establishment will win out, eventually.

I'd like to submit that this is all tragically wrong, that the prism being used to view the Republican Party--at this point in time--is deeply flawed.

There's a group out there--mostly on the right and in the middle--being left out. Turn the clock back to 1992 and 1996. Who sucked up nearly 19% of the vote in 1992 and over 8% in 1996 (even after looking like a loon)? Who actually led the polls--over Clinton and Bush--at one point during the run-up to the 1992 contest. Yes, good old Ross Perot, he of the black helicopters.

But what was Perot's central message, what stirred people to support him? It was twofold: 1) DC is full of people that talk a lot, but don't do anything and 2) he was a successful businessman that knew how to run things, to get things done.

Those ideas resonated strongly with a good chunk of the populace. Going into the 1992 election, there were many that liked Perot, but still did not believe he could win. Perhaps if they had believed, that 19% would have been much, much higher. And let's not kid ourselves: Bush (the first) had everything going for him in 1992. Perot hurt him, far more than Perot hurt Clinton.

Now, some of that crowd--Perot supporters--have reinvented themselves as tea partiers. But I think the same sort of message that worked for Perot will work--and is working--again. And of the GOP crop of candidates, it's Herman Cain that truly embodies that message. And given the current economic climate, I think the possibility exists for an expansion of support. Cain is actually in this race. And if he makes it--somehow--to the Presidential Debates, I think his chances of winning the General Election are pretty damn good.

Cheers, all.

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