Cain, the Protest Candidate?

Well, this is certainly unexpected:

Herman Cain has moved into a tie with Mitt Romney atop the field of Republican presidential candidates, according to a new CBS News poll, while Rick Perry has fallen 11 percentage points in just two weeks.

Two statistics that jump out from the poll: 17 percent of GOP primary voters now back Herman Cain; 8 percent of GOP primary voters think he can win a national election. If that’s not passive aggression, I don’t know what is.

Which may be why the political media doesn’t seem to be taking the Cain surge seriously. Jonathan Chait wonders whether he’s just the protest candidate for all the Republicans who can’t stand Romney:

I don’t think Cain can win the nomination, and I’m not sure he really wants it (as opposed to a nice Fox News gig.) Saying you might vote for Herman Cain for president — of the United States, not of a pizza chain — can only be read as a cry of protest.

It makes sense. Seventeen percent of voters will never vote for Romney. Probably a good portion of that group would also never vote for a candidate who supports in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. So they’re left to choose from an array of unfeasible candidates: There’s Gingrich, who mentally checked out of the race months ago. There’s Michele Bachmann, who continues to hand Democrats PR gifts like this one. There’s Santorum, whose best days are long behind him. Even though Cain is unlikely to win, he’s still a fresh and entertaining candidate.