Roger L. Simon

Herman Cain and the Death of the Political Pro

Karl Rove doesn’t think Herman Cain stands a chance of being POTUS. Bush’s number one consigliere said as much on Fox Thursday night.

But is he right? I sure don’t know, but I certainly have a suspicion why Karl thinks what he does. The Herman Cain candidacy is a direct threat to his occupation. Rove — arguably the reigning monarch of political pros — went on to register his disapproval that Cain was wandering around Godforsaken places like Tennessee flogging his book, when any serious candidate should be pressing the flesh where it counts — to wit, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Worse yet, the candidate isn’t raising any money (or not enough to have flashing neon signs that say “9…9…9…” like Burma-Shave along every highway in America — not that we have to be reminded).

Now I have no beef with Rove. In fact, I rather like him, having interviewed him for PJTV. But it’s obvious that times have changed and that Herman Cain is running a very canny media campaign virtually all by himself. Yes, I know he has a staff, but you do get the sense this man is his own thing, which is part of the tightrope walking fun. Can he make it to the other side — Pennsylvania Avenue — without falling? Whatever the case, Rove and others like him (the sorry David Axelrod, the Carville-Matalin duo, etc.) are in danger of becoming, if not extinct, at least more marginal than previously assumed.

Here’s another data point: A couple of months back, Newt Gingrich’s entire campaign staff — including Dave Carney, the putative “next Karl Rove” — split and decamped for Texas, soon to join Rick Perry’s campaign. What happened? Today Gingrich is rising in the polls — apparently on the strength of his debate performances — and Perry, who started strong, is, at least for now, in trouble.

Again, I have no beef with Carney. I’ve met him too and he seems to be a fine fellow. Quite bright.

So what’s going on here? The more powerful the political pros, the worse the campaign? Or is it really about the candidate in our non-stop media world? I tend to think it’s the latter. Given the amount of coverage they all get, it’s hard to imagine they need help in getting exposure. Maybe they need help in getting a little anonymity. (That’s particularly true in the current president’s case.)

And what about money — the legendary mother’s milk of politics? Well, it too might not be as important as it is cracked up to be. Cain, as noted, has spent very little (at least until now) and Jon Huntsman is the richest guy to run since, well, John Kerry. Maybe Huntsman’s even richer. And look where it’s got him, duking it out with Rick Santorum for the privilege of keeping Gary Johnson out of the debates (unfairly, in my estimation).

We may all hate our media — they are even less popular than politicians — but they are ironically diminishing the importance of money in politics. No money? No pros? What’s next? Actual democracy?

Of course, I have overstated it, but I think not by a lot. What also may be going on is that the American public — at least on the Republican side — is very engaged. They know we are in a crisis and they are paying strict attention. They don’t need pros and they don’t need advertising to attract their eyes. Their bank accounts already woke them up — and if not that, a friendly reminder from the neighborhood jihadist.

Does this mean that the candidates should all strip down and fire their advisers? (Be like Herman, not like Mike.) Well, in one sense, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. But in these dire economic times, with everyone so concerned about jobs, putting all those political pros on the unemployment lines could be heartless. And no candidate — Rick Perry would be glad to remind you — wants to be accused of that.