Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2012 Could Be a Train Wreck

Is the Cain Train just the first derailment of 2012?

The meteoric rise and catastrophic derailment of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain should be a cautionary tale for all grassroots conservative/Republican activists and for the leadership at the NRCC, NRSC and RNC.

Herman Cain’s ascent in the polls and popularity with “tea party” activists came about due to the candidate’s approachability, his straight-talking style and his common sense approach to solving the problems that confront our nation.

His embrace of his outsider status and his quick-witted answer when his political inexperience was brought up as an issue also won Cain scores of supporters.

When asked about his lack of elected experience he would simply remind people that we’ve been sending people to Washington, DC who have political experience and then simply ask, “How’s that working for you? How about sending a problem solver to the White House?”

Unfortunately some of the very things that made Herman Cain such an attractive candidate to many, also led to his ultimate demise.

Cain talked a lot about “making sure we are working on the right problem” and“surrounding yourself with the right people”. On both counts his campaign, and therefore he, failed miserably.

Herman Cain’s biggest problem, other than his inexcusable lack of understanding of foreign policy and national defense issues, as well as, his apparent inability to learn – despite allegedly discussing the topics with distinguished experts like KT McFarland and John Bolton – was his senior national campaign staff.

Cain’s national campaign chairman, Mark Block, has his own FEC scandal smoldering in the background. He is a man that was barred from involvement in elected politics for 3 years and he obviously lacked the knowledge and experience to deal with the firestorm of controversy and allegations that inundated their operation after the first Politico article was published.

JD Gordon, Cain’s communications director/foreign policy advisor, was completely incompetent in dealing with the Politico story despite having 10 days advanced notice that it was coming. He infamously called Geraldo Rivera’s cell phone while Rivera was on the air and gave an amateurish interview that was heard through Geraldo’s lapel microphone.

Additionally, each time candidate Cain made yet another unforced error – whether it was not knowing the Taliban isn’t in Libya, his tortured answer about negotiating with Al-Qaeda to get a captured soldier back:

Or not being able to clearly articulate his own position on abortion:

– Gordon inevitably came out with a statement that tried to explain each gaffe away by blaming a lack of sleep, the media and/or the public for being unable to understand Cain’s answers.

You can read JD Gordon’s biography here. I’ve read it several times and based on the bio, his performance and my personal interaction with him, I’ve come to two conclusions: 1) Based on his resume Gordon should have done a much better job at both damage control and interacting with the media. 2) He lacks the expertise to call himself a “foreign policy advisor”.

For a couple of weeks I implored Herman Cain on Twitter, on my radio show and anywhere else I could to fire Mark Block and JD Gordon and get his campaign back on track and back on message. Unfortunately he did not heed my advice and the emergence of a woman accusing the candidate of engaging in a 13-year extra-marital affair became the preverbal last straw.

The “Cain Train” was the best vehicle for the GOP to reach the White House in 2012. With the train derailed some activists find themselves taking another look at Newt Gingrich or one of the other remaining candidates. But unfortunately none of them have the combination of qualities that attracted voters to Cain.

Gingrich is the biggest Washington insider of the group, with the possible exception of Ron Paul. Yet he seems, at least for the moment, to be convincing some voters that he is the consistent conservative they’re looking for.

Despite having a firm grasps on the economic, monetary and other domestic policies, Paul’s foreign policy stances make him a non-starter for most GOP primary voters.
Jon Huntsman is a Republican In Name Only and would actually get more traction as a Democratic challenger to Barack Obama.

Rick Santorum’s best arguments for his candidacy are his accomplishments as a US Senator. Not the best position to be in when the electorate is looking for outsiders.

Rick Perry’s accumulated gaffes and flubs have pretty much eliminated him from consideration by many grassroots activists.

It seems only fair to have an obligatory mention of Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer. Done.

Michele Bachmann surged early, especially in Iowa, then lost some of her luster – and a lot of her traction -- due to unforced errors on the part of both her national campaign staff and herself. She was widely seen as behaving like a “diva” on the campaign trail. One of the chief complaints from people on the ground was that when booked at an event (Lincoln Day dinner, etc.) she would arrive late and leave early – sometimes not even eating at the dinner – annoying event planners.

Bachmann also had a bout of campaign-threatening foot-in-mouth decease where she said things that were factually untrue, and/or absurd, or she would make a great point in a debate only to blow her momentum by taking her argument just a little too far (see Gardasil).

Perhaps her most grievous error though may have been co-opting the Tea Party label and movement for her personal political gain, which makes her look like a “typical politician”.

Founding and chairing the House Tea Party Caucus might have been a great idea, if Bachmann were staying in Congress and continuing to fight for lower taxes, less spending and smaller, more constitutionally centered government. Not so much when she appears to have done it only for political benefit.

So now Republican primary voters have a choice to make and less time to make it than many average voters may realize. The first in the nation caucuses will take place in just over 3 weeks – less considering Christmas and New Years – and the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls is not generating excitement within the base. It’s down to Romney or “Not Romney” and that’s not going to generate enthusiasm (think John McCain in 2008).

Short term there seems no doubt it’s Newt Gingrich that benefits from derailment of Herman Cain’s campaign and his departure. With or without Cain’s endorsement, and there is some doubt as to whether it’s forthcoming or even desirable, Newt is already seeing a bump in his poll numbers. But Newt has a long and colorful record for the media, his opponents and his former congressional colleagues to revisit and expose. Can the former-Speaker weather the storm that is inevitably coming his way?

What has happened thus far in the current primary season leads to questions about the “inevitability” of a Barack Obama defeat in 2012. But beyond that it also raises questions about the GOP retaking the Senate and increasing its majority in the House.

The coattails of a successful presidential candidate cannot be overstated. Down ticket candidates can be helped or hurt by the enthusiasm and voter turn out generated by a strong top of the ticket candidate.

Looking around at some of the declared candidates for senate and house seats around the nation, there are some excellent candidates and some not so exceptional candidates. Some of the excellent candidates are in tough races. Some of the not so exceptional candidates are in impossible races.

Perhaps more troubling is that in some of the house and senate races there are 11 or more candidates vying for the GOP nomination. These fields are as wide as the Grand Canyon and about as deep as a rain gutter. Quality would be more desirable than quantity in defeating entrenched incumbent Democrats. Even in an anti-incumbent atmosphere incumbency is a powerful tool.

Unless a Republican presidential ticket is chosen that offers a clear alternative to the policies of Barack Obama and generates the passion among the grassroots activists that actually win elections by knocking on doors, making phone calls and getting out the vote, 2012 could be a train wreck.