GOP Insiders Seemingly Confident in Herman Cain’s Viability

I am fascinated by this result from the latest HuffPo-Patch poll of Republican party elites in the early primary and caucus states:

Nearly three-fourths, 74%, of these party insiders believe that “can beat Obama” describes Cain “very well” or “somewhat well.”  That’s more confidence than I would expect.  I would be interested to know why these insiders see him as so viable.  Given the economic headwinds that Obama faces, there are probably many GOP candidates or non-candidates who could beat him—including, I think, Romney, Perry, Christie, Huntsman, Daniels, Thune, Pawlenty, and others.  All you need is some modicum of political experience, a likable enough personality, issue positions that you can massage as needed for your primary and general election audiences, and a minimum of outright wackiness.   (And even issue positions that are tougher to massage may not matter much if the economy dominates all other issues.)   These qualities typically combine to make a viable candidate who in turn typically has a professional campaign operation.

But Cain.  Well, he seems quite likable.  And I could even see massaging 9-9-9 into something politically palatable.  But his lack of experience and now all this wackiness would give me pause.  As would his position on abortion—or, rather, I should say his seeming inability to state a clear position on a longstanding and perhaps the most important social issue within the GOP.  How hard can that be?  It’s as if a baseball team scouted a shortstop who couldn’t throw to first base but the team’s scouts were still confident that he would help them win the World Series. I blame Cain’s campaign as well.  Who is prepping him?  Why is he going on “Piers Morgan” in the first place?

Anyway, my observations on the GOP field and Cain in particular are nothing that hasn’t been said before.  What I can’t figure out is why these GOP insiders would see things differently enough to believe Cain could beat Obama.

14 Responses to GOP Insiders Seemingly Confident in Herman Cain’s Viability

  1. Acilius October 26, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    I don’t think either of those ads is any wackier than was Jon Huntsman’s first TV spot. Maybe absurdism is just the latest trend in campaign ads. As you’ve pointed out elsewhere, Cain’s inexperience may yet prove to be an asset. And the other problems you mention can be fixed by the right team of consultants, who presumably would be easy enough for the Republican nominee to assemble.

  2. Andrew Gelman October 27, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I think Cain could beat Obama. But I don’t see Cain getting the nomination.

  3. Anonymous Coward October 27, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    “I would be interested to know why these insiders see him as so viable.”

    Probably for the same reason enough they thought that Alan Keyes was viable against him.

  4. Anonymous Coward October 27, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    against Obama, that is.

  5. doomed to repeat history October 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Seriously? Have you been listening to professional right wing operatives parsing the painfully clownish GOP debates? Based on past performance these people know their audience and this is what I think they know.
    If the GOP nominates a black man to run against the black man they hate so intensely – and so irrationally, as he has done them no great harm – they can then pat themselves on the back for not being racists after all – which gives them license to continue to treat Obama like the anti-christ with their outrageous undemocratic obstructionism dressed up like patriotism. During a campaign if they run a black man against Obama, he will act as shield for them – and they can really go full throttle.
    I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but the GOP is perfectly capable of hating Obama because he’s black and then using a black man against him – and even stirring up a kind of soft-racism which will work against Obama and for them. The key to understanding this is their electoral pragmatism – winning is the only goal – unhampered by principled positions during campaigns they will cross any line to cobble together a majority, as long as they can be in control. Much of their current demographic – the fundamentalists and reactionaries – are also pre-primed for contradictory messages and circular or non-existent reasoning.
    The effect of race on politics is admittedly serpentine in the US – we have only to remember that the party of Lincoln has now absorbed the remnants of the Confederacy, the party of Jim Crow, and become one. Lincoln’s federalists have been swamped by Jefferson’s bastards, yielding modern “state’s rights” conservatives. The GOP took over these demographics from Democrats over the course of the 20th century. Catering cynically and unapologetically to white voters affected by race, they absorbed southern Dixie-crats and their northern counterparts, just as they took the working class religious right – not because they agreed with them, but because the GOP needed the votes.
    So even though the contemporary GOP is arguably the home of a quintessentially American brand of racism – a mostly latent or soft type these days, still potent electorally speaking – those who control the GOP aren’t racists first – no, no, no, make no mistake, FIRST they are opportunists.
    Privileged opportunists, for whom the ends always justify the means – and they prove this at absolutely every turn.
    For this crew, Cain is infinitely “usable”. He is unfailingly on the side of business and absolutely on board with the simplistic doctrine of “small government, low taxes, and no regulation”. He’s already a master of “blame the victim”. He’s malleable; he obviously likes the spotlight, but has little experience, so would easily be “guided” by GOP “advisors”. What the left might charitably call his ignorance is just another plus for the right because is he doesn’t appear too intellectual for the fringe-y base they need to connect with – and who threaten to take the reins and lose the game if they aren’t appeased – i.e.”the crazies” social and religious fundamentalists – but who Cain seems in-step with. Cain they may lose the really serious white power racists but those voters wont defect to the other side, they’ll just sit it out – so who cares! Besides they aren’t a big enough demographic to lose sleep over.
    Best of all, Cain is a business guy who would love to be accepted into the GOP elite – and accept him they will. Who will be his Dick Cheney? is the only question left to be decided.
    What the “GOP insiders” are predicting is the obvious; the GOP “King Maker” machine can work with Cain, they can use him. This is not to say that they like him the best, but that he represents a workable strategy for winning so he’s in the running as far as they’re concerned. They could use a white stooge just as well, but not as well against Obama – because of the race thing – and besides, (“been there, done that”). As for the rest of the field, Perry is a loose canon, Romney too slimy, Bachman is crazy (and she has a vagina!) Huntsman is more like a Democrat – and Newt, besides being a pig and a narcissist, is a pig who has had his day. Ron Paul is too weird and hates the Fed and the Pentagon. So who’s left? Cain.

    • Scott Monje October 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Yet Cain has virtually no endorsements.

      • doomed to repeat history October 28, 2011 at 1:01 am #

        I’m not sure how the usual things like endorsements fit into the game any longer because of the disarray within the party. Look at the primary schedule business. The way the primary season is playing out is just plain weird – defying precedent.
        For the record, I’m really not a crazy conspiracy theorist – I fired off that piece as just one theory that might explain what’s happening with the GOP – because what’s happening on the right is just so damned odd. How can there be so many candidates who all come off as so unstable? Such wild statements, so much ego and so little intellect, and so proud of it! And Republican operatives discussing them after the debates as if it’s all pretty much business as usual?
        Apparently, this is the new normal for conservative politics in the US. Gone is the old veneer of respectability, gravitas, serious policy discussions.
        My feeling is that the GOP old guard set a bunch of things in motion in 2008 that they can’t undo – the Palin selection seems like the watershed moment to me. (Or maybe it was the “selection’ of GWB by a highly politicized Supreme Court in 2000? Who would have thought the US Supreme Court would intervene TO STOP VOTE COUNTING?!?!) Now it’s “do anything to win” – including potentially putting the republic in the hands of someone nuts, again.
        The old party discipline is fraying. With Palin, the GOP opened the door to the far right, fundamentalist Tea Party and the young turks who rode in with them, who’ve been crossing swords with their elders. The old guard still has the purse strings and the Rovian messaging gurus – resources which they will not relinquish without a fight and which they continue to use to great effect against anyone they want to discredit.
        But things on the right are far messier than they’ve been in my lifetime. I think the spectacle we’re watching now is the intersection of things falling apart while the GOP old guard still thinks they can control any situation. The Iraq war was a perfect example of their failure to know their own limitations and I don’t see them getting any smarter. The Old Guard may look like they have less of a hold on power within their own party but you’d still have to pry it from their cold dead hands so I wouldn’t count them out yet. I guess I’m saying that there is no strategy that makes sense in operation here – we’re watching a decline on the right. I can only guess what they’ll do based on what their psychology seems to have revealed already.
        I think their default strategy is to let the crazies – who they cant control anyway – fight it out now and when the dust settles, attempt to control whoever is left. I think Cain will be the easiest for the old guard to control. Until then it’s non-stop political theater.

  6. Bart DePalma October 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    “What I can’t figure out is why these GOP insiders would see things differently enough to believe Cain could beat Obama.”

    1) Obama’s fundamentals are so bad that nearly any scandal-free GOP candidate with a pulse could win. No incumbent in history has won reelection with anti-government sentiment or unemployment this high. The combination of both of these factors makes an Obama reelection very unlikely. Think a cross between Hoover and Carter.

    2) Cain’s positive intensity (approval less disapproval) keeps growing with his name recognition among GOP voters. He may be the most liked GOP candidate since Reagan.

    3) Cain has broad appeal. Cain is tied with Romney among moderates and leads among conservatives. That is the coalition he needs to win.

    4) In anything close to a properly weighted horserace poll, Cain and Obama are tied. However, whenever a pollster applies the crosstab, the undecided have a very high disapproval of Obama. If the GOP runs a likable alternative, the undecided go from staying home out of dislike for both parties (which appears to Obama’s base election plan) to switchers going GOP.

    • John Sides October 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

      Bart: If #1 is true, then why do the prediction markets suggest this election is 50-50? See Intrade, inter alia. If #3 is true, why does Cain have almost no endorsements from any prominent Republican officeholder?

      • Bart DePalma October 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

        Because the elections market investors still have 2008 on their minds and because these folks rely upon adult and registered voter garbage polling with heavy Dem weighting biases until all the media pollsters shift to their likely voter screens. For example, the Iowa Electronic markets had the Dems holding the House in 2010 until July even though the fundamentals inside the polling showed the Dems were in deep trouble months before the markets caught on.

        Things look even worse for Obama in 2012.

        We are in the first L shaped recession with double-digit real unemployment since the Great Depression and even the polls weighted with a Dem bias has Obama approval on the economy at historic lows.

        The anti-government sentiment is the highest in modern polling history. Doug Schoen was right to call it “pre-revolutionary.” This sentiment arises from deep opposition to government policy as well as the economy. Obama’s signature policies all poll underwater.

        If you want to consult markets, consider the swarm of GOP candidates seeking Mr. Obama’s job. They smell blood.

        • John Sides October 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

          Bart: You don’t need to rely on polls. The fundamentals-based models don’t agree that Obama is in trouble. Doug Hibbs says yes: his last estimate (now several months old) is that Obama wins 46%. But Ray Fair says Obama wins 52-53%. I think Obama does face some significant headwinds, but I hardly see the GOP as so advantaged that they should be confident in Cain. And if they were that confident, why won’t anyone endorse him?

          As for the “swarm” of candidates, consider Thune, Pawlenty, Christie, Daniels, et al. If there is so much blood in the water, why are these guys out? The GOP is acting like Obama is beatable, but they aren’t acting like it’s a foregone conclusion. Which makes it even more puzzling that these insiders seem to think Cain would have almost as good a shot as Romney or Perry.

          And the less said about Schoen, the better. You can Google to find Andy Gelman’s views, which I share.

          • Andrew Gelman October 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm #


            I promise not to bring up Schoen anymore if you promise not to take Ray Fair seriously. Also, to be fair to Hibbs, his prediction is explicitly conditional on a prediction of economic growth and he states clearly that the prediction will change as more information becomes available.

            Regarding Cain, I still don’t see him being nominated. It’s easy for people to enjoy his rise in the polls when he’s the flavor of the month, but I can’t see him as a serious preference of primary election voters or convention delegates.

  7. Woodrow October 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Re 1: you think a Republican actually needs a pulse to beat Obama? I think a dead guy would do even better than a live on- fewer chances to blow the election by saying and doing stupid things!

  8. David October 31, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    I’m not planning to vote for Obama again. I suspect many of the OWS people aren’t either. Both he and the majority of the Democratic Party have distanced themselves from this progressive constituency and are counting on us voting for the “lesser of two evils.” The problem is, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s impossible to tell which is the lesser evil. It really doesn’t matter if a Republican privatizes NASA — sorry, Obama beat you to it. It doesn’t really matter if Republicans go on a war-mongering binge — sorry, Obama beat you to it. It doesn’t really matter if Republicans ask for $4 trillion in concessions at the expense of social programs — sorry, Obama and the Democrats already gave it away (after negotiating $1.2 trillion). It doesn’t matter if Republicans raise the war budget — sorry, the Democrats are doing a great job buying useless Cold War hardware. I predict that Obama *will* lose the election. And all because the Democrats strayed from a progressive mission and betrayed their constituents, not because anyone loves Republicans or Greens more.