GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was predictably defiant when a pack of GOP pundits and insiders strongly hinted that he should fold up his candidacy tent. Cain said he was in the race to stay and did his by now patented bizarre, double-speak, Bill Clinton style denial that he did not have sex with that woman. The woman in this case is Ginger White, the latest in the legion of alleged Cain targeted sexual victims to come forth and wag the "inappropriate" conduct finger at Cain. But Cain's defiance and defense was just a sideshow act to cover a candidacy that was never really a candidacy to begin with.
Almost certainly the most surprised guy in the house at his string of straw polls wins in a few states was Cain. But Cain's sideshow trail of wins served several purposes. It fanned the delusion that a man with no money, no political organization, no protracted work in primary states developing crucial party ties and loyalties, was actually a credible presidential contender.
That didn't much matter since Cain gave the media and much of the public something that the GOP presidential candidate's circus team didn't and that was a flamboyant, sound bite spewing, political oddity. Cain spiced things up and that insured that every Cain inanity, gaffe, and malapropism would be the stuff of instant headlines and news bites. The lengthening trail of allegations of sexual harassment and affairs hurled at Cain was the topper. It pushed Cain from political curiosity to a hot ticket item with the media in an eternal hunt for the latest sex, salacious, titillation news peg.
Cain's sexual woes initially made him serviceable in another strange way. He now conferred a sort of respectability on the other GOP contenders that had been stunningly lacking in recent weeks. As the GOP candidates went from dull to predictable to laughable in their debate performances, the great fear was that the GOP's holy crusade to oust President Obama in 2012 would sink in a wash of vitriol, clownishness and the resultant public disgust. However, Cain presented an almost perfectly timed distraction that gave his GOP presidential aspiring counterparts time and breathing space to take the high ground, talk the issues of the economy, budget, and defense, without having to worry that the latest Cain goofball pronouncement or antic would further sully their image.
The best example of that is Newt Gingrich. Before Cain's spectacular blow-up, Gingrich's campaign was on bare life support. He wallowed in the lowest single digits in voter support. He was a tired war horse, that was seen as just along for the ride, media attention, and ego boost. Cain's equally spectacular fall helped change that. Gingrich now finds himself the new GOP flavor of the month and going toe to toe with Romney in GOP voter approval. He's labeled the political erudite, fount of policy wisdom, and party respectability. He even managed to get a kind word from Bill Clinton.
With the dice suddenly rolling in his favor, Gingrich moved quickly to pull off the tricky delicate balancing act of trying to appeal to moderate independents with a softer tact on immigration, while at the same time, trying to usurp Cain as the darling of GOP ultra conservatives and Tea Party leaders and followers. Cain's public fall also gives the other candidates added value to pose as the ABR (that's anybody but Romney) alternative. As the perfect pitched blend of businessman, proverbial political maverick, and hard core ultra conservative, Cain for a time seemed to be the most effective at stoking that sentiment among Romney doubters. These are the voters that are the most likely to vote in the official Iowa GOP Caucus in January and a few weeks ago said that they were three times more likely to back Cain over Romney.
Even if Cain officially limped along in the race for a while longer, it wouldn't change things for the GOP mainstream leaders, hard-nosed GOP political operatives, and the big gun financial donors. From the start, they treated Cain's candidacy as the fun and games, amusing, sideshow act that it was; an act that was destined to fade into the sunset, when it came time for the serious voting next year. After all straw polls with a handful of respondents in a handful of states months before the first real ballot is scheduled to be cast in a legitimate primary can hardly be considered to be any bellwether of voter sentiment.
Cain's first reaction to the long term sexual affair allegation was to dig in his heels and say he's in the race for the long haul. He could do that precisely because his candidacy was never about winning the GOP nomination but hyping Cain. A hype the GOP went along with because it kept the press fixated on the GOP presidential hopefuls, revved up a disjointed, disgruntled, and dismayed GOP party faithful, and blunted the withering attacks that the GOP was a pack of unreconstructed bigots and race baiters. Cain drop out of the race? No the GOP simply will close down its amusing but suddenly costly and embarrassing sideshow act.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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