Kim Strassel has an excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on Herman Cain’s underappreciated contributions to the GOP race. She writes, “[U]nlike Mrs. Bachmann, or Mr. Perry, or the no-shows [who didn’t run], Mr. Cain has fundamentally altered the dynamics of the GOP primary. In the process he’s provided the Republican field with its first glimmer of understanding as to the mood of the conservative electorate.”
“Even as polls showed a public weary with Washington’s stalemated, painful, depressing spending debate, all the Republican candidates wanted to do was talk about Washington’s stalemated, painful, depressing spending debate. The crowds were practically in tears.
“That changed with Mr. Cain and his 9-9-9 plan. Whatever the problems with that proposal (and there are many), 9-9-9 had the merit of reminding Republicans that there are two sides to any economic coin: spending restraint and growth. Mr. Cain seemed the only candidate on the stage who remembered the latter, as well as the fact that conservative voters, in any environment, respond best to Republicans who propose a positive, forward-looking plan for fixing an economic problem.”
“Mr. Cain’s other important contribution has been to remind the field that conservatives want something more than a replacement for Mr. Obama. They want a leader.
“With Mr. Obama’s poll numbers flagging, it is no doubt tempting for Republican candidates to try to make this race solely a referendum on the president. But while Mr. Cain certainly takes his shots at Mr. Obama, his success has been far more [about] his ability to deliver, with charisma, an upbeat vision for the country — whether with 9-9-9 or some other idea. Voters are aching for this kind of enthusiasm….
“[T]o the extent Mr. Cain’s passion has, at least fleetingly, brushed on to some of the other candidates too, the field is better for it.”
In addition to highlighting the causes of Cain’s rise, Strassel observes what can be gleaned from his fall: GOP voters care a lot more about having a candidate with demonstrated knowledge of foreign policy, domestic policy, and how things work in Washington, than about whether a candidate can claim “outsider” status.
In short, Republican voters are hungry for solutions, leadership, enthusiasm, and knowledge (which, one might add, are the same things that so many independent voters are thirsting for as well). They’re looking for someone who’s willing and able to articulate, and fight for, conservative principles — particularly someone who’s determined to fight to repeal by far the worst part of Obama’s tenuous legacy: Obamacare.
The candidate who (as Strassel writes) “has most fully understood this” and who (I would add) has been the principal beneficiary of Cain’s candidacy, is his fellow Georgian. Ten weeks ago, on the eve of the Florida straw poll, the Republican race was widely viewed as a contest between the well-funded, well-staffed Mitt Romney and Rick Perry campaigns. Without so many GOP voters’ intervening support for Cain, it seems unlikely that the race would have taken its current shape.