If ever a poll result struck the punditocracy like a bolt of lightening from a blue sky, it had to be Saturday’s Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida. Leading with its chin, the prevailing wisdom assured all and sundry that Texas governor Rick Perry was pretty much a lock to grab the golden ring, with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney finishing a close second. After 2,600 Floridians cast their ballots, however, the prevailing wisdom took one directly to the chin: Herman Cain was the clear and decisive winner with a whopping 37% of the ballots cast. Perry and Romney finished with %15 and 14% respectively and the pundits finished with egg and a “who farted?” expression on their faces.
The first and most obvious questions are: what the hell just happened? How did it happen? Will it happen again?
What just happened is a textbook example of the consequences of focusing on the candidates to the exclusion of the electorate. Thanks to the news and comment media which satisfied their headline bloodlust by goading Perry and Romney into a mano-a-mano octagon death match, the glaring deficiencies of each candidate were literally broadcast from the rooftops to an electorate weary of having to settle for a loaf of bread that’s only half-moldy.
It wasn’t Governor Perry’s abysmal performance in the debates that put a torpedo into his campaign (although it certainly didn’t help matters any): it was his doubling down on the wrong side of an issue that the Republican base isn’t prepared to shrug off at this time. To be fair, after listening to him give a detailed explanation to Sean Hannity of his position regarding a border fence (a fence alone is worthless if nobody is monitoring it and if you have the manpower and assets sufficient to monitor it, a fence is unnecessary), I find myself inclined to agree with him. But even that wasn’t the problem. As Allen Fitzhugh observed the other day, the problem is his obstinacy on the issue of in-state tuition for the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants. Worse yet, he characterized those who oppose the Texas Dream Act as “heartless,” a characterization that all the aerodynamic prospects of a lead balloon to an audience that, for as long as it can remember, has been demonized by the Left as heartless.
Likewise for Mitt Romney: his obstinate refusal to admit Romneycare was a statist boondoggle that presaged Obamacare appears to be responsible for the Romney Fatigue Syndrome that is beginning to seriously erode his popularity. That he insists he would never impose Obamacare on the nation because it is unconstitutional does not mitigate the fact that he did so in Massachusetts. He also suffers from his own physical appearance: Romney reminds people of a living Corporate Ken doll who cannot shake that image regardless of how casual he dresses, a fact not lost on Mike Huckabee, who once quipped “I look like the guy you work with…[Romney] looks like the guy who laid you off.”
The embers of disenchantment with both Romney and Perry that lay smoldering for some time were fanned into flames by both the media and the candidates themselves, whose “I know you are, but what am I?” routine was too redolent with the stink of politics as usual for the straw poll voters in the Florida GOP. Perhaps this explains why the other candidates – all of whom are or were part of the Washington, DC Establishment – lag so far behind:
There can be no mistaking the powerful message that Cain’s victory in Florida sends to the GOP electorate in other states: here is a man of character, integrity and vision whose extensive experience in the private sector makes him one of the most qualified political outsiders to seek the presidential nomination since the early days of this republic. But will his total lack of political and foreign policy experience stand as an asset or an albatross?
I suppose the answer will depend largely upon the degree of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude that Herman Cain manifests. Even the most politically inexperienced neophyte will enjoy a measure of success in office if he surrounds himself with capable, experienced advisers who likewise are men and women of character, integrity and vision. For this reason, I’m not overly concerned with inexperience: former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter was a micromanagerial policy wonk and his presidency was a dismal failure; former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was a politically savvy policy wonk whose presidency was pockmarked with false starts, blunders and outright failures.
That Barack Obama’s presidency will eclipse that of Carter’s in terms of sheer ineptitude and scope of failure is not so much a reflection of Obama’s total lack of private or public sector executive experience but a reflection of a self-loathing American whose ideology so thoroughly pervades his consciousness that it all but completely clouds his judgment.
I see none of this negativity in Herman Cain. Time will tell if the rest of the electorate sees what I see.