Friday, 14 January 2011

Is Cain able?

I was doing some lovely revision today, and when I got bored I ventured onto CNN Politics. 'Pizza Mogul Exploring 2012 Run' naturally caught my eye, mainly because I like pizza. Whilst reading the article, some things popped into my head that I wanted to explore and yap about. Here are those things.

In-case you haven't read the above linked article, here it is summarised in a few sentences: Herman Cain is a man considering running for the Republican nomination for the 2012 Presidential election. He is largely unknown, but has a small dedicated following due to his radio talk show. He enjoys great personal wealth and has been successful in business.
The first thing to cover is the fact that he is not well-known and is politically inexperienced. Successful candidates in the primaries and the Presidential election which follows it are usually political heavyweights, or at least have experience in important roles in politics. Looking back at past Republican nominations in the primaries shows a clear pattern of the winners of being experienced in politics and well-known. John McCain ('08) served in Congress for around 30 years and became more prominent due to his unsuccessful 2000 GOP primary run. G.W Bush ('00, '04) served as popular and successful Governor of Texas from 1994-2000 and is the son of a former President. Bob Dole ('96) had a lengthy career in Congress, ran as Gerald Ford's running mate in the 1976, and made a previous attempt for the GOP's nomination in 1988. George H. W. Bush (1988, 1992) served in Congress, and was - among other things - Ambassador to the UN, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Director of Central Intelligence. Reagan (1980) was a mediocre film and TV star who dabbled in politics through scaremongering adverts, and then went on to become Governor of California, and his decision to challenge Ford for the GOP nomination in 197 gave him a greater public and political profile.

I waffled about past nominations above to prove a point: those who succeed in Republican primaries for Presidential elections are invariably those with political experience. Cain, who has never served in a political office, stands in direct contrast to this. The closest he got was coming a distant second in the contest to be the Republican candidate for the Senatorial election in Georgia. It is possible, though highly improbable that he could win the 2012 Republican nomination. I would say that Barack Obama proves that an unknown entity could become a party's nomination for President, but even he had served in state politics and was a notable Senator due to being one of the few African-Americans to hold a seat there.

However, it is possible that Cain's lack of prominence could be a factor which helps him in the primaries. Being a fiscal and social conservative, he is has the unofficial support of the Tea Party group, and the fact that he is not an establishment candidate could help him to present himself as being an ordinary person who will represent the views of the American people. There's great scope here for him to attack Democrats, and moderate and establishment Republicans alike as ignoring the wishes of the people. One of the things which stands out to me is that he has the chance of being a more palatable alternative to Sarah Palin. Presuming she runs, it would be in Cain's best interest to stay on her good side, as President Palin (perish the thought) might like a successful businessman with very similar ideology to her own as a member of her Cabinet. However, during the primaries itself, I wonder whether there would be opportunity for Cain to subtly present himself as the right-wing Tea Party candidate who is more widely appealing to the public than Palin. One of the criticisms levelled against the Tea Party - and sometimes Republicans in general -  is apparent elements of racism in the ranks. Having a black man who is a passionate conservative defending the principles of small Government, lower tax, and spending cuts might help to squash some of the suggestions that the Tea Party is a discriminatory group. If the Tea Party pulls behind Cain rather than Palin, there's some excellent PR material available to portray the group as being tolerant and colour-blind, being only interested in policy. Getting Tea Party backing over Palin would also help out an already wealthy Cain with his campaign, as, aside from donations from group members, it is likely he'd get also support from high-profile conservative radio news presenters like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and perhaps even some favourable coverage on Fox News. The latter could be a real boost to Cain, as an MIT study in 2000 concluded that Fox had been able to convince between nearly 10% to 30% of it undecided viewers to vote Republican. If the channel begins pro-Cain coverage early, and continues it right the way through the election, it could provide some great help to the candidate in getting himself and his platform known.

However, as I mentioned above race being a potential bonus, I sadly also have to cover how it could be hindrance. In my opinion, the election of Obama as President has caused race to become a more important issue once again. There have been severe and sometimes downright vile attacks on Obama's race and heritage, with a recent poll indicating that a sizeable chunk of Americans still believe he is a Muslim:
Some 18% said the president was a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009, according to the Pew Research survey of 3,003 Americans. Among Republicans, that number was 34%. Just a third of those quizzed correctly identified Mr Obama as Christian.
Source - BBC News

I would like to point out that 35% of Republicans believing Obama to be a Muslim is an absurdly large amount. It indicates to me that race is a more important issue to some Republicans, suggesting that there are far greater elements of lingering racism amongst the ranks of Republicans than Democrats. This leads me to question whether those on the right - particularly the Tea Party elements Cain will rely upon for support - will be willing to back an African-American candidate. (Note that I don't classify the Tea Party as a racist group - but I don't think it can be denied that there are racist elements within it.) It springs to mind that there are still voters who refuse to vote for anyone other than a white man as President; I vaguely remember a chap from a documentary about Obama's Presidential campaign saying something along the lines of "I don't want a black man as President." I would judge that the kind of people who make judgements on the basis of race will have become even more cemented in their prejudices due to their hatred of Obama's policies.

Another damper on his potential for success in the Primaries is that Republican voters may be mindful that an immoderate candidate could dramatically lessen the party's chances of winning the Presidential election. It's important to appeal to the centre ground and pick up votes from disenchanted Obama voters. Having a very conservative Tea Party-backed candidate would make this very difficult. Conversely, there could be the opportunity for Cain to tap into a growing anti-Government spirit amongst many Americans. He can present himself as an outsider who wants to - to quote John Boehner - "give Government back to the people." As of the time of writing, the statistics are on his side - his overall strategy for the whole of America can be plain old populism. The average of all the polls indicates that nearly 63% think America is on "the wrong track", versus only 32% saying it's on "the right track". On healthcare, the figures are narrower, but still on his side: 52% oppose the Democrats' healthcare reforms, against 41% in support. I suspect the first poll, indicating a very strong feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction, is in no small part due to the economy - with unemployment still high and federal debt growing. Therefore, Cain's vision of lower Government spending, free market economics, and less tax could help him gain the support of a dissatisfied public. This could especially be the case if he touts tax cuts as a method of stimulating the economy. States like Nevada - with high unemployment and struggling economies, could form a key part of his support with the correct strategy.

Interestingly, CNN reports that his supporters are overwhelmingly white and male. This chimes with the very strong support that African-American voters give to Democrats, with the proportion voting for Obama in 2008 being around 95%, and even without the race factor it was 88% for Kerry in 2004, and 90% for Gore in 2000. Black voters are a group which is yet to be convinced by a conservative agenda. As much as I would love to be, I am not a political strategist, but I would suggest that Cain ought to fight tooth and nail for the support from African-Americans, and could do so with some success. Firstly there is the race factor: the Republicans are largely white, with there being very few prominent black conservatives, and fewer still Tea Partiers. His contrast to the cliche would help him to stand out and break stereotypes. He can highlight his support for affirmative action as showing that he believes there are still issues with racism in the US and that minority groups are in need of assistance. (Conversely, this is likely to be an area which makes it more difficult to get Tea Party support.) There is also the opportunity to tap into the strong Christian beliefs amongst many African-Americans. The Christian Post reports that "African-Americans are the most religiously devout racial group in the nation when it comes to attending services, praying and believing that God exists, according to a recent profile." With Cain's anti-abortion stance, there's the chance to appeal to this religiously-devout community, especially with Obama's commitment to Christianity being brought into question in the media and by opposition groups. One of the most fundamental things he'll need to do is promote an alternative vision of tax, spending, and welfare. The black community in the USA is, on average, more impoverished and earns lower wages. Rather than seeking to remedy such problems through the traditional welfare methods, he could draw upon Ron Paul's platform to push a view that lower taxation will be the key giving them a better standard of living. Even the lowest earners in the USA pay a 10% federal income tax, with - as far as I can see - there being no personal allowance as there is in the UK. Scrapping the 10% income tax rate band, replacing it with 0% on earnings of between $0 to $8375 would be an excellent way of achieving his goal of lower taxation, as well as appealing to the impoverished and low-earners. In addition of this, he can speak of continuing to reduce taxation, perhaps setting a target of having reduced income tax overall by 10% by the end of his term if elected as President. Furthermore, if he wants to take the fight to sales tax, there's great scope for slamming sales taxes as evil: disproportionately affecting the poor and therefore the African-American community. It can be his moral cause; seeking to reduce poverty by reducing taxation. Similarly, his opposition to Obama's healthcare reform can also be spun positively. Again he can draw upon Ron Paul's platform; being in favour of reform, but through capitalist means to drive down prices, not Government means. One policy would be to allow insurance providers to trade and compete with each other across states, rather than limiting them to having a separate branch in each. This could be coupled with more stringent regulation and a guiding hand where necessary to smooth out the kinks in the system. Furthermore, he was an important campaigner against the healthcare reform proposed under the Clinton administration, so can draw upon his experience of arguing his corner and convincing the public to help him lobby against reform.  Finally, there's the element of hope. Herman Cain is a boy from a poor black family who made good; that potentially provides a great way for him to show that if he could pull himself out of poverty, anyone can. He can de-toxify conservatism - making it into a patriotic, noble, and compassionate crusade to improve the lives of everyone - especially the poor.

Funds are important in elections. The source of the money is not important, so long as the candidate has it. Even in the primaries, candidates spend massive amounts of money. Hillary Clinton spent nearly $250 million, including $13 mill of her own money. This is despite the fact that she wasn't even the Democrats' chosen candidate. Obama raised over $650 million Dollars, and it can be argued that his having far greater funds - and choosing not to accept federal funding in order to avoid the spending cap - was a key factor in him beating McCain in the race for the the White House. Unlike Clinton, Obama spent none of his own money, with much of his funds coming from small repeated donations from supporters. Cain would potentially be able to merge the best of both worlds - he could afford to spend a good deal of his own money on getting his campaign off the ground, and then presuming he gets Tea Party backing and general conservative support, can attempt to imitate Obama's grassroots funding. This should work especially well due to him, like Obama, being an outsider and largely unknown candidate. In addition to this could be support from the media, particularly radio hosts like Glenn Beck as mentioned earlier.

Let's presume for a moment that Cain either does not run or fails, and it is Palin who triumphs in the primaries and receives the Republican nomination. As I mentioned earlier in the article, there is a chance that she will select Cain as her running mate, but how likely is this? On the plus side, there are elements of a balanced ticket here. This is a concept which attempts to balance out weaknesses (perceived or real) in the Presidential candidate through the choice of running mate. The most notable example being Kennedy's odd choice of Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate.) Palin is from Alaska, Cain from Georgia - potentially giving them the chance to appeal to different geographical areas; Palin white, Cain black - perhaps a black running mate would help to gain the African-American vote as discussed above. However, the usual experienced and fresh-faced combination would apply less well here: Palin has only served as Mayor of Wasilla and State Governor of Alaska, having had no position in national politics other than her Vice-Presidential run at John McCain's side, and as discussed earlier, Cain lacks political experience.

I suspect that Cain knows he will perform poorly in the primaries, and the chance of him becoming the Republican nomination is next to none. However, I don't think he plans on winning. He plans on raising his profile - bringing up issues he feels are important, challenging establishment Republicans, proving he can cut it, and making a name for himself. The best case scenario would be the successful candidate taking him on as their running mate, with him therefore having a chance at becoming Vice President. Otherwise, he becomes better known and more well-placed to run for Congress in future, and build up his political career from there. It's likely a win-win situation even if he loses.

The man himself seems likeable, and though I may disagree with him on social issues and believe that he has little chance of being successful in the primaries, I wish him well. He speaks with clear passion and belief, and his ability to draw upon his childhood could bode well in a political era which seems to crave a patriotic, honest, back-to-basics approach:

I intend to adopt Cain as the key potential candidate for me to track in the run-up to the election, reporting back with news, comment, and analysis on his plans and potential. If he chooses not to run, I'll seek to adopt someone else equally as interesting.

There's a chance he is the Republicans' answer to Obama, but only time will tell.

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