So just a day after writing here that Herman Cain has usurped Rick Perry as the only realistic challenger to Mitt Romney, the wheels have come spectacularly off Cain’s campaign too. The charges of sexual harrasment will hurt him, although not necessarily fatally.
More interesting is some of the evidence coming out of his campaign which suggests just how paper-thin his candidacy really is. Clearly, he’s had some bad advice about how to face down this scandal, but he wouldn’t be the first senior politician (or would-be politician, in his case) to have misplayed his hand in this context. But the bad advice itself is fascinating because the evidence points to Cain not having really bothered putting together much of a campaign team in the first place.
In fact, as Jason Farago writes in the Guardian,
Herman Cain is not really running for president of the United States. A visit by one news organisation to his supposed Iowa operation found precisely zero employees. He is, rather, on what might be the most high-profile book tour this country has seen (previous titles include Speak as a Leader and They Think You’re Stupid) – at least since Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. In fact, his campaign has been exposed for buying tens of thousands of books from Cain’s own for-profit company.
If you want to get all Peggy Noonan about it, you could bemoan the decline in American political discourse that the Cain campaign encapsulates, or critique the media frenzy that surrounds a political outsider when sex comes to the fore. And to the hysterical race-baiting of an Ann Coulter, who, right on schedule, invoked the Clarence Thomas line about a “high-tech lynching”, there is surely a demure, pearl-clutching response about how we should all rise above such mudslinging.
But to what purpose? Herman Cain is, in many ways, the candidate we deserve in the United States today: entirely media-oriented, unconcerned with the realities of governance, and largely bankrupt in both ethical and financial terms. He was never supposed to reach the top of the national polls, and yet his outsider charm and numerological approach to tax reform have allowed him to fill the yawning conservative chasm that first Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry were unable to occupy for long. But at least Bachmann and Perry know how to raise money and win elections. Cain is incapable even of that – this thing would have come crashing down one way or another, though not before sucking up weeks of news time.
It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, that the GOP is now so frenzied in its opposition to mainstream politics that a joke candidate could have got this far. Romney must be surveying the battlefield with a huge grin on his face – through a combination of serial incompetence (Perry), underperformance (Bachmann), and unseriousness (Cain) the likelihood is that the Republican Party will elect, largely unopposed, a leader it hates. Bizarre.