Herman Cain is looking good in the polls at the moment, but polls tend to be lagging indicators. Mike Huckabee shot to the top of the polls in 2007 largely by being likeable and jovial, as Cain has over the past couple of weeks. Voters want to vote for someone, not just against someone else. Cain has done a very good job of giving GOP voters someone to vote for, just by being himself. Huckabee’s amiable personality masked his thin foreign policy knowledge and his tendency to campaign on the fly for a while, but eventually reality caught up and he lost to the more experienced presidential campaigner in the race. I’m not saying that McCain’s win was a good thing; it’s just a fact. Cain so far is easily the most likeable of any of the GOP candidates in how he presents himself and in his personal story. Like Huck tended to be in 2007, at least until Fred Thompson got into the race.
On the other hand, likeability is likely to carry Cain only so far. Just this week, he badly blundered an easy foreign policy question when he said he could see himself as president freeing 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other al Qaeda terrorists held at Gitmo in exchange for one American hostage. He followed that up with a strange blizzard of answers on abortion, an issue for which every GOP presidential contender should be prepared to have a simple and clear answer for. Back in June, he fumbled the Second Amendment.
Speaking of fumbling, maybe Cain isn’t the new Huck, but Cowboys QB Tony Romo — a clearly talented performer who tends to blow the big moments. Romo built a big lead against the Jets and the Lions this season, only to have his own mistakes contribute mightily to his team’s ultimate painful defeats. That’s not what the GOP needs in a nominee. Trust me, never mind the implications for the nation if Obama gets four more years — just watching your team lose that way hurts. A lot.
None of these questions Cain has blown are hard, gotcha questions. If Cain is this easy to trip up now on issues that are part of Republicanism 101, how will he handle being the GOP nominee going up against the media’s messiah? Not well, I expect, unless he can get his chops sharpened up. He is clearly brilliant when he is in his wheelhouse; this should be a fixable problem.
But I keep muttering similar things about Romo…for about five or six seasons now.
The task for Romney and Perry now isn’t to dent Cain’s likeability, which I’m not sure can be done, but to become more likeable themselves to offset Cain’s greatest strength, while emphasizing their own records. Or run away from them, at least in Romney’s case on health care.
On the third hand, whether Cain is Huck or Romo, at least he isn’t Michele Bachmann. Her New Hampshire staff just quit en masse. Given where she is in the polls and fundraising, it’s hard to see her getting past Iowa now.