Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich yesterday was not the story it might have been had it happened far earlier in the race. Had he decided to back Gingrich a couple of months ago in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of his presidential campaign it might have been useful to Gingrich. Cain’s good humor and strong debate performances gave him a brief time at the top of the GOP polls in the fall and enough of the goodwill he engendered lingered even after allegations of sexual harassment and an affair forced the former Godfather Pizza executive out of the race. But the longer the interval between his withdrawal and his endorsement, the less his stamp of approval meant. Even those Tea Party activists who were prepared to accept Cain’s foreign policy ignorance and inability to explain his tax plans have moved on and no longer care much about what he says.
Even worse, Cain’s participation in Stephen Colbert’s comedy antics last week in South Carolina confirmed for anyone who was still paying attention to him that he isn’t a serious person. While the real candidates, including the man he has now endorsed, were campaigning in South Carolina, Cain allowed Colbert to use his name (which was still on the ballot in that state) to be the focus of his faux-presidential run and even appeared with him at a rally. It may have all been in good fun but it was proof, as if any was still needed, that Cain had always considered the GOP race as just another outlet for his outsized ego. But the justification for this belated support for his former rival also diminished its impact.
While Cain has become something of a sideshow act these days, the pretext for his endorsement may cause more trouble to Gingrich than assistance. Cain says he was moved to endorse Gingrich because of the publicity given to Marianne Gingrich’s charge the former speaker had asked her for an open marriage when he was having an affair with his current wife Callista. “That’s the same crap that they pulled on me, and that’s what’s wrong with politics,” said Cain of Gingrich’s problems.
Politics certainly isn’t beanbag, but the notion that an expression of solidarity between men who cheated on their wives will be of any help to Gingrich’s hopes of winning the presidency seems to be misplaced. Though the Marianne Gingrich story did no immediate damage to her ex-husband, he needs to move on from it as much as possible lest the public focus more on what she said and less on ABC’s bias in airing the interview days before a crucial primary. Seen in that light, an endorsement from a man who was forced to leave the race because of credible charges of his own sexual misbehavior was probably the last thing Gingrich needed this week.
Gingrich thanked Cain and said he would name him co-chairman of a commission on “jobs, economic growth and taxes.” But given the declining fortunes of Gingrich’s campaign, the likelihood of such a commission ever meeting is only a little better than of Congress ever passing Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan.