Herman Cain’s biggest problem on “Meet the Press” yesterday was not his 9-9-9 plan. His current tactic is simply to deny what every independent analyst has said about it, namely that’s it’s a very regressive “reform.”( “MR. GREGORY: And you think those people are going to rally around tax reform where the wealthy [pay] less and middle-class and lower-income folks pay more. MR. CAIN: Yes.”)
His habit of simply ignoring unpleasant facts will disturb some voters; those who think the 9-9-9 is not a viable plan but a clarion call for simpler reform won’t mind so much. But his statements on gay marriage and foreign policy may be far more problematic and damaging.
This was his exchange on gay marriage:
MR. GREGORY: A couple more. Same-sex marriage. Would you seek a constitutional ban for same-sex marriage?
MR. CAIN: I wouldn’t seek a constitutional ban for same-sex marriage, but I am pro-traditional marriage.
MR. GREGORY: But you would let the states make up their own mind as they’re doing now?
MR. CAIN: They would make up their own minds, yes.
Rick Santorum took immediate exception to this. In an e-mail last night he told me, “I have been a longtime supporter of states’ rights. However, I believe, as Abraham Lincoln did, that states do not have the right to legalize moral wrongs.” He continued, “Mr. Cain, Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann all believe 50 different definitions of marriage is fine. But I strongly disagree and will continue fighting for traditional marriage between one man and one woman.”
Penny Nance, executive director of the 500,000-member Concerned Women for America, told me on the phone that often courts are imposing gay marriage by judicial fiat. So, she says, “States need an opportunity to choose a constitutional amendment. I find it disappointing Herman Cain doesn’t see this as a viable option and is missing this opportunity.” She cautioned that his view is not shared by most social conservatives. “I think he will find that position problematic,” she said.
Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer was likewise displeased with Cain’s position. He emailed me this morning: “His answer misses the whole point. The left will not permit each state to decide. They have mounted a well conceived plan to have the federal courts order every state to recognize the same sex marriages performed in every other state. The Defense of Marriage Act prevents that now. Eventually a constitutional amendment will be needed.”
The view that Cain articulated was the position that Texas Gov. Rick Perry took in his book and voiced in late July. However, he swiftly repudiated a “let the states decide” view in a conversation with Family Research Council chief Tony Perkins. His spokesman Mark Miner e-mailed me: “Governor Perry is a strong advocate for traditional marriage between one man and one woman. Further, Governor Perry supports a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Governor Perry was the lead advocate for such an amendment to the Texas Constitution — an amendment that Texas voters overwhelmingly approved. Until the day comes when our U.S. Constitution is amended to say the same thing, Governor Perry believes that states should have the right to make their voice heard on this issue.”
As a practical matter and for the foreseeable future, Cain and Perry are on the same page because a constitutional amendment is not in the offing any time soon (and likely ever). But Cain’s position in declining to support an anti-gay-marriage amendment is not going to sit well with social conservatives. For them, this is akin to the Democrats’ position, which allows states one by one to adopt gay marriage and other states to be corralled into recognizing marriages that are legal in other states.
A Santorum spokesman told me by phone last night, “First Herman Cain supported TARP. Then a new 9 percent nationwide sales tax. And now a redefintion of marriage at the state level. The more we learn about Mr. Cain, the more concerned we become.”
He might have added foreign policy to the list of concerns. On “Meet the Press,” Cain was asked about Afghanistan. Here is the exchange:
MR. GREGORY: How would you define victory in Afghanistan?
MR. CAIN: In Afghanistan, victory is, can we leave Afghanistan in a situation where they can defend themselves? I don’t know if that’s possible right now because, here again, what do the commanders on the ground say? What does the intelligence community say? A lot of analysis needs to into determining whether or not there is a definition of victory in Afghanistan.
Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative e-mailed me, “The role of commander in chief is more than just knowing who to consult or who to invite to a meeting. The commander in chief needs to outline the strategic goals of a particular policy and then create the environment that allows his commanders to succeed in implementing that policy. President Obama has failed at doing this in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but Herman Cain will need to prove to the voters that he is capable not just of running a good meeting, but that he will also make the correct decisions that advance American interests and keep Americans safe.”
Right now Cain is telling us he likes the neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and the conservative critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, George Will. He told David Gregory he likes both John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as foreign policy thinkers. (What — he curries favor with the despots only on odd-numbered days?) These pairs of conservatives are polar opposites, of course. It is sort of like picking Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as your favorite Supreme Court justices — it suggests a lack of understanding of the diametrically opposed views they present. More to the point, it raises doubt as to how Cain could make national security decisions with no vision of his own or familiarity with the issues.
Cain is banking that voters aren’t following closely the details of what he is saying. He better hope that lack of attention to detail continues so long as what he is saying is either gobbledygook or antithetical to key constituencies he will need to win the nomination.