Commentary Magazine


Re: Herman Cain?

Conservatives have spent the last several months chewing up and spitting out a number of Republican presidential hopefuls as well as some who haven’t run. If you eliminate those who haven’t done well when exposed to scrutiny, like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, that means Republicans must either make their peace with Mitt Romney or re-examine their misgivings about the other candidates. Given the choices, that’s not much fun. So, it’s no surprise this has led to a second look at some who have very little chance of winning the nomination.

Thus, Herman Cain’s moment has arrived. His straw poll triumph in Florida over Rick Perry has led some thoughtful writers such as the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger and our own John Steele Gordon to ask why Cain shouldn’t be given serious consideration. Both buy into the notion electing a businessman without any government experience is a good idea given our economic problems. They rightly point out he has some good ideas about finances. But both also ignore or rationalize Cain’s ignorance about foreign policy while being seduced by the possibility the Godfather Pizza exec could split the African-American vote. While Cain has established he’s good at delivering cliché-laden one-liners in debates, there are still good reasons for conservatives not to waste time on him.

First of all, the idea a person with no background in government ought to be entrusted with the White House doesn’t make much sense. Granted, there is no reason why only career politicians should get consideration. It’s a valid criticism of most of our governing class that many, like Barack Obama, have never held an honest job where they might get some idea of how businesses work. It’s also true Obama didn’t bring any executive experience with him when he was elected in 2008.

But that is exactly why Republicans ought not to duplicate that experiment. We’ve just seen what it’s like when you have a president who hasn’t much idea of what he’s doing, so why would a similar fault in a candidate be considered a recommendation? For all of the popularity of rhetoric about our disgust with veteran political hacks, successful presidents have to know how Washington works. Maybe governments ought to be run more like businesses but, like it or not, governments are not the same thing as fast food franchises.

It also bears repeating that despite the obvious emphasis on economic issues this year, a president’s first and most important responsibility concerns defense and war and peace issues. That’s something that even those, like George W. Bush, who entered the office with no thought of devoting much attention to foreign policy, have learned. When he began running for president, Cain’s ignorance of the world beyond our borders was almost complete. He’s uttered some memorable clunkers in which he said we could stop Iran from getting nukes with energy independence, had no idea what the Palestinian “right of return” was, and admitted he hadn’t a clue about what to do about Afghanistan. Since then, he’s cleaned up his act a bit and learned a few one-liners about supporting Israel that he will repeat whenever given the chance. But it’s still fairly obvious he doesn’t have a grasp of these topics. While we may have elected a number of presidents with no direct foreign policy experience, even most of that number knew more than Cain.

Last, there is the idea that Cain could split the African-American vote. But there is no reason, other than Cain’s own assertion to believe that this could happen. Enthusiasm for Obama among his base is probably diminished, but there is no sign whatsoever African-Americans are likely to jump ship even for a black Republican.

Herman Cain may be an entertaining diversion from the more obvious choices, but there is a reason why few have given any serious thought to the possibility of him winning the GOP nomination. It’s because he isn’t a plausible candidate.