Is Herman Cain running for President? That is, is he running with the intent of winning more delegates than his adversaries, securing the nomination and defeating Barack Obama to actually become the President? Or is he running for attention and/or book sales? This is a matter of some discussion now, especially since the apparent GOP frontrunner lacks campaign organization in key states, as my colleague Mark Benjamin notes.
Yet despite Cain’s best efforts at avoiding the nomination—boasting of his lack of foreign-affairs knowledge, taking five contradictory sides on the abortion issue—this morning finds him leading a CBS / New York Times poll, 25% to Mitt Romney’s 21%. Primaries and caucuses are state-level, so a national poll only means so much, but surely this is a troubling sign for Cain, should he not actually wish to accidentally get himself nominated.
If Cain wants to lose this thing, time is running out, which means it’s time for a media strategy! Cain’s campaign has released what must be the early frontrunner for most insane ad of the GOP primary. There’s nothing overtly nuts about it—no demon sheep, no animation—just campaign chief of staff Mark Block, standing outside a building framed in increasingly tight shots, as he tells us how Cain will put the “United” back in “United States of America.”
After which, Cain’s campaign music swells—the lyric “I am America” over an ’80s synth-anthem beat—and Block, now in a tight headshot, takes a drag on a cigarette and blows the smoke in our faces. Because why the hell not? Nobody is going to tell a man he can’t associate smoking with America and patriotism—not in Herman Cain’s America they’re not!
Then there’s a cut to black. And then Herman Cain just stares at us for ten seconds.
Now look. Seriously, I am already on record as saying that the press should not disregard a candidate with Herman Cain’s level of support, no matter how daffy his campaign is or how suspect its level of organization. If 25% to 30% of Republicans expressed a preference for SpongeBob, putting him ahead of Mitt Romney, then by God you send a camera crew to his pineapple under the sea.
Can Herman Cain ever get elected in the primary process? I don’t know! Probably not! Smarter minds than mine apparently believe not. But I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern of the political press right now—for one thing, because it’s not always only the winners of elections that matter. Even a losing candidate, if his ideas get enough traction, can have a great effect on the policies of competitors and the eventual nominee and winner. (See Ross Perot and his budget focus in the 1992 election.)
Already Rick Perry is coming out this morning with a flat tax proposal, which observers have not unreasonably suggested is an attempt to inject a little Cain into his flagging campaign. And it’s condescending at minimum to look at a plurality of primary voters and say: Yes, I know you say you want to vote for Cain, it’s cute really, but trust us, you’re not going to vote for him.
The election will happen when it happens. In the meantime, I hope Cain is not going away too successfully or too fast. Because I need to see more ads like this one.
Update: And this one—