The Herman Cain Boomlet

The talk on the presidential campaign trail this week is of Herman Cain, who had a big performance at the Florida straw poll over the weekend. Cain won the debate in Orlando on Thursday, and he gave a rousing rendition of his regular campaign speech to the follow-on conference on Saturday. The crowd ate it up, and when the votes for that conference’s straw poll came out Cain had a whopping 37 percent, compared to 15 percent for Rick Perry and 14 percent for Mitt Romney.

Which means that Cain, who has been a big hit on the campaign trail even when he’s had single-digit poll numbers, might have finally ensconced himself in the first tier.

And that’s a good thing. Cain is without question a more appealing candidate than Ron Paul, whose act is tired and who is obviously running to build a mailing list rather than get elected. And he’s certainly more appealing than Jon Huntsman, who is in the wrong party and who grates badly with his smarmy adherence to left-wing pseudo-science on global warming. And though he tends to perform well in debates Cain is also more appealing than Rick Santorum, who seems to be running in the wrong election cycle with his emphasis on social issues amid economic calamity. He’s clearly more appealing than Michele Bachmann as well, given her complete lack of executive experience and the perspective that goes with it. Cain brings no dearth of executive experience, having racked up a long string of executive successes in the private sector. And Cain is a more appealing candidate than Newt Gingrich; while both are Georgians with a willingness to throw new ideas around Cain seems to represent a newer and more energetic brand of “ideas conservatism” than Gingrich, with his personal baggage.

A first tier of Perry, Romney and Cain is a good first tier.

But it should be understood that the media has already picked a side in this election. And though he’s getting some publicity this week, it’s not Cain.

No, the media wants Romney to win the GOP nomination. Or if they can’t get Romney they want Chris Christie to get in, which is why we’re seeing a Christie rumor boomlet this week as well.

The theory here, which we’ve introduced before, is that the media is giving up on Obama. His approval ratings are disastrous at present, and they’re even worse on the issues voters will care about most next year. Obama’s administration is becoming ensnared in scandal, whether it’s Fast and Furious or Solyndra or any number of other demons looming in the dark, and while the denizens of the Beltway and Manhattan press corps won’t give those abuses a fair hearing they realize nothing good will come from them for a president whose re-election prospects are already dim.

So if Obama is going down, and the New York-Washington media elite sees this, they’ve got no choice but to jump ship in order to save their credibility with the public (such as it is after the way they shilled for Obama from 2007-2010). But where to jump to?

Well, Romney was a relatively inoffensive – to liberal perspectives – Republican governor in Massachusetts. He’s had lots of left-friendly positions in his time. He’s running a campaign based in part on preserving left-favored institutions like Social Security and praising federal control over things like education – which the Left and the media take for granted as absolutely crucial.

If you can’t have Obama, you might as well have the closest thing.

Huntsman would have been the closest thing. Huntsman got an enormous amount of media attention for so minor a candidate. Clearly his campaign isn’t going anywhere. So the next closest thing is Romney – who at least comes from the same East Coast elite worldview as the legacy media types at CBS News and the New York Times. He believes the same basic things – Social Security might need adjustments but it’s politically untouchable. You can’t shut down federal programs and agencies even if they do more damage than good. A progressive income tax is sacrosanct. And so on.

Romney isn’t getting much traction in the GOP race at present. He’s struggling to get above 20 percent in the polls, and even the Zogby poll released yesterday which had Cain jumping to 28 percent had Romney in third place at 17 (Perry was at 18).

What is the media’s take? Perry is collapsing. Not that Cain is rising – Perry is collapsing. And very little discussion of the fact that Romney’s campaign isn’t going anywhere. It’s almost like you’re not supposed to know that.

Should this week’s raft of polling show that Cain really has climbed into the top tier, he’ll be greeted with the same furious wave of attacks Perry was hit with upon his entry into the race. We’ve already seen what the Left will do to black conservatives, and as Cain gains in prominence he can expect to hear every slur under the sun. That obviously won’t hurt him with Republican voters, who are so tired of race-baiting leftists that they could say the sky is blue and still be rejected. But more substantive criticisms could stick.

Primary among those will be scrutiny of Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan. He’s suggesting a nine percent tax rate on corporate and income taxes, plus a new nine percent federal sales tax. This, he says, will be revenue-neutral for the federal government and would increase economic growth. He might be right about that, but the more scrutiny Cain gets the less interesting the plan is going to be for Republican voters.

Why? Well, first, a nine percent federal sales tax is basically the Fair Tax without the most attractive and ambitious feature it brings; namely, that a constitutional amendment be passed to get rid of the federal income tax. Without moving the tax system away from income and toward a tax on consumption, you’re just creating more streams of revenue for the government that the Left can ultimately ratchet up to pay for its meddling in the economic life of the nation. There is no guarantee that Cain’s nine percent sales tax wouldn’t become a president Schumer’s 15 percent sales tax or a president Wasserman-Schultz’ 25 percent.

And worse, that nine percent sales tax will be analyzed as devastating to the take-home of a poor family or those on fixed incomes and cast as an attack on less-well-off Americans. Our readers can just imagine that being combined with the typical expectation of “Uncle Tom” slurs and characterizations of Cain as inauthentic and a sellout.

The better part of the 9-9-9 plan – namely, the flat income tax rates on personal and corporate income – is extremely attractive to a conservative electorate and would undoubtedly spark capital investment and economic growth. But it will be demonized by the Left as a sop to evil corporations and the super-rich, and feed into the meme of Cain as a fringe candidate and unelectable.

Which helps Romney, obviously, as Romney’s most important asset is his electability.

Cain’s rise is good for the Republican Party in all kinds of ways. And as a Perry supporter myself for whom Cain is a solid second choice I’m quite happy to see him coming up. If Perry’s suspect debate performances this month were to create an opening for any of the candidates Cain is the most proper recipient. But his campaign is going to need to prepare itself; the attacks are coming.

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