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Is the Curtain Falling on Herman Cain’s One-Man Show?

8:16 AM, Oct 25, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Herman Cain is coming off perhaps his worst week as a presidential candidate. Last Tuesday, he said that he could see himself potentially negotiating with terrorists and releasing several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of one American soldier. That same night, in the most recent Republican presidential debate, he didn’t defend his 9-9-9 plan very effectively, failing to highlight the taxes that Americans would no longer have to pay under his plan.

Herman Cain

The very next night, Cain went on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight and sounded like someone who is personally opposed to abortion but who thinks it should be legal as a matter of policy, saying, “[I]t ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make, not me as president, not some politician.” Two days later, on Fox News, he said, “Look, abortion should not be legal. That is clear. But if that family [of a rape victim] made a decision to break the law, that’s that family’s decision.” (Why Cain didn’t just say that abortion should be legal only in the case of rape or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy is anyone’s guess.)  Then yesterday, on day-7 of Cain’s disastrous week, he was asked (again on Fox News), “Should abortion be a part of the political discussion?” He replied, “No, it should not, quite frankly.”

The combined effect of Cain’s statements has made him come across as either a muddled thinker or as someone who just hasn’t really thought much about these issues at all — neither of which is an advantageous quality in a Republican presidential nominee.

More fundamentally, the problem with Cain’s campaign, in its current composition, is that it’s defying his own wise axioms.  Cain says his success proves that politics is mostly about messaging. But, at least over the past week, it’s his messaging that has been the problem. He says we need more clarity in our politics and laws. But his recent answers on abortion could hardly have been less clear. (In that respect, this exchange, from a week earlier, is probably even worse.) He says it’s important to surround himself with the right people. But he hasn’t surrounded himself with very many people at all — and with no one who is particularly well known in national political or policy circles. 

Most of all, he says it’s important to ask the right question. But he doesn’t seem to have asked himself the crucial question: Is he really running for president? Or is he merely running to have a good time, sell a few books, get a primetime speaking slot at the convention, and maybe make a play for the vice presidency? Right now, it seems like the latter.

All of this points to the seemingly inescapable conclusion that Cain’s run as a successful one-man show is nearing its end. The question is, will the formerly successful show continue on for a while as something of a novelty act? Or will he retool the show and reopen it with a strong ensemble cast?

The good news for Cain is that, if he really wants to be president, it might not be too late.

Cain’s surge from the back of the pack to the front is a testament not only to many Republicans’ dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney — particularly with the philosophy of government that Romney’s actions and defenses on health care seem to convey — but also to Cain’s unique strengths in this race. Even while being bludgeoned on 9-9-9 in the debate, Cain reacted with a great deal of grace, coming across as much more of a gentleman than many of his rivals have under similar duress. His sense of humor and genuineness set him apart not only from much of the GOP field but also from the incumbent president, as does his Main Street business expertise. Despite his recent blunders on abortion, he seems genuinely conservative. In all, there’s a reason why he, and not one of the other GOP hopefuls, has been the principal beneficiary of the party’s misgivings about Romney.

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