In the latest Fox News poll Herman Cain has a slight lead over Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich has moved ahead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who seems destined to occupy the second tier with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and others. It’s not surprising in a sense that Gingrich is moving up; He’s done well in debates, and the rest of his non-Mitt Romney opponents haven’t. He, at least, sounds as if he knows what he is talking about, and his demeanor in the debates has generally been congenial (except when he’s been arguing with the moderators).
But isn’t this, excuse me, bizarre? Cain, as many have observed, is unknowledgeable even when it comes to his own proposals. He’s got an Enron-style scandal. And his organizational skills in the political context are horrid. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Cain has hardly shown up in New Hampshire and Iowa, they said, spending the bulk of his time on a book tour through the South. He occasionally mishandled potential big donors or ignored real voters. His campaign churned through the small staff; last week, his campaign announced the appointment of the veteran campaigner Steve Grubbs, his third Iowa leader in four months.
Even bumper stickers have been hard to come by.
And then there was that e-mail to the staff about traveling in a car with Mr. Cain: “Do not speak to him unless you are spoken to,” the memo said. . . .
[I]nterviews with Mr. Cain’s former staff members, volunteers and supporters give a glimpse of a candidate who appeared to show ambivalence toward basic campaign management, which led to problems in hiring, scheduling, fund-raising and messaging.
Together, these problems are at odds with a central theme of his candidacy. Because Mr. Cain does not have a legislative or political track record, his campaign rests heavily on the contention that he would bring proven, executive-level expertise from the business world to the White House.
Although Cain posits himself as the un-Obama, in critical ways he is the closest thing in the GOP field to the struggling president. Both operate on slogans. Neither demonstrated a grasp of foreign policy as a candidate. Neither had public-sector executive experience. Both are “change” figures. Both are prickly when challenged. (How many times has Cain retorted, “You’re wrong!” when confronted with flaws in 9-9-9?)
Cain brought the promise of competency. But the reality is very different, according to those who have seen him in action. “Some former aides said they had longed to see the problem-solving side of Mr. Cain, or to see Mr. Cain at all,” New York Times article said. “Over the spring and summer, he did not spend much time with workers. He did not plan conference calls or staff meetings and was given to changing his mind about appearances, sometimes with little notice, a tendency that angered his field workers.” And he seems to have picked up the diva complex: “On a trip to Iowa last weekend to participate in the Faith and Freedom Forum, a meeting of evangelical conservatives, Mr. Cain stayed on his campaign bus until it was time to take the stage, while other candidates worked the crowds. Shortly after he finished speaking, he left the room.”
Then there is Gingrich. He can talk up a storm. But that is his great skill. His speakership was a disaster for the GOP. He is a man of a thousand ideas, 100 of which are worth listening to. If judgment, discretion, organizational prowess, self-discipline and effective leadership are essential to an effective presidency, he’s obviously auditioning for the wrong job.
So what to make of the national polls that show a preference for flash over competence and rhetoric over experience? Well, the key lies in the fact that these are national polls. Voters who won’t cast ballots for months and who view this all as a reality show or a cable news shout-fest are registering their views. The contrast in early-state polls is significant. There, Romney leads, and Gingrich is back in the pack.
GOP voters will eventually have to choose not a favorite TV personality but a nominee. It is then that Republicans, desperate to win the White House and enact a conservative agenda, may find Cain and Gingrich less attractive.