The beautiful, political simplicity of Cain’s 9/9/9 plan

at 06:30 AM ET, 10/12/2011

Businessman Herman Cain’s “9/9/9 plan” is a controversial one in the world of economics. But it’s pure gold in the political arena.


Businessman Herman Cain and his “9/9/9” plan will gets lots of attention in the coming days. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Cain’s plan — a tax reform idea centered on, you guessed it, a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent personal income tax and a 9 percent national sales tax — dominated the discussion at last night’s Republican presidential debate sponsored by the Washington Post and Bloomberg News.

And that’s a very good thing for Cain.

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Success in the world of politics — unlike in the world of policy — often depends on the ability to deliver your message in a concise package, whether that be a bumper sticker or a 30-second television ad.

“Cain’s 9/9/9 plan is so effective because it has no details to skip,” said Todd Harris, an unaligned Republican strategist. “It’s easy to understand, easy to remember, and for a lot of people it makes a lot of sense. It probably has economic PhD’s rolling their eyes, but a lot of voters are nodding their heads.”

Even in the best of times, people pay limited attention to campaign politics, and so what cuts through the clutter are the ideas whose appeal is tied directly to their simplicity.

The 9/9/9 plan is the essence of simplicity. It takes, literally, one sentence to explain it, and at first seems to make perfect sense. After all, Democrats and Republicans alike agree that the tax code in this country is badly in need of an overhaul due to its labyrinthine complexity. Proposing a simple solution to cut through all of that complexity is inherently appealing.

“The 9/9/9 plan that I have proposed is simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral,” Cain said at the debate. (He used the word “simple” to describe his plan on numerous occasions Tuesday night.)

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tried to fight the good (policy) fight when asked about how his own economic plan stacked up to 9/9/9.

“I must admit that — that simple answers are — are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate,” Romney said. “And in my view, to get this economy going again, we’re going to have to deal with more than just tax policy and just energy policy, even though both of those are part of my plan.”

A solid answer — and one that will play well for Romney in the general election if he gets there — but one that lacks the pure political punch of Cain’s 9/9/9 proposal.

Political reality dictates that Cain and his 9/9/9 plan will be all the buzz of the cable chat shows — and political blogs! — over the next 24 to 48 hours. While the plan’s long term political prognosis is far more iffy — can it stand up to the scrutiny headed its way? — it guarantees Cain another 15 minutes (at least) in the political spotlight.

Worth noting from the debate: You might not hear about these moments in the debate recaps, but they’re worth recalling for future reference.

* TARP becomes a problem for Romney, Cain and Perry, who can all be connected to the legislation (as Rick Santorum pointed out).

* Cain says Alan Greenspan is his model for a Fed chairman. This isn’t as popular position as it was when Cain served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in the 1990s.

* Romney knocks the auto bailout, which could hurt him in Michigan if he’s the GOP nominee.

* Perry seems to suggest at certain points that debating policies and getting Congress’s approval isn’t a requirement for being president. That’s a tough position to defend.

* Gingrich defends Palin on “death panels.” Democrats love this.

* Not content to unseat Ben Bernanke, Gingrich also wants to jail former senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). So there’s that.

* Huntsman attacks Romney for “destroying jobs” at Bain Capital. With opponents unable to land a glove on Romney, is this the next attack?

Christie more open to VP talk?: First he rethought his decision not to run for president; now New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sounds like he may actually consider the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

Christie, who has previously dismissed such talk by saying his personality doesn’t befit a vice president, sounded a bit different after endorsing Romney on Tuesday.

“I don’t know that I’d be anybody’s good match in that regard,” Christie told NBC News. “But ultimately, that’s going to be — that kind of thing is up to the person who’s the presidential nominee to decide who they think is the best person for them and, most importantly, the best person for the country.”

Christie said separately that he has “no expectation” of being offered the VP slot. “I have a job to do in NJ; it’s the job I’m committed to doing,” he said, according to Mike Memoli.

That ain’t ‘no.’

Lingle says Senate campaign isn’t about Obama: Former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle (R), who announced she would run for Senate on Tuesday, told The Fix that her campaign isn’t about Obama, who won 72 percent of the vote in the state in 2008.

“No,” she said, “this campaign is about the need to expand our economy and create more jobs.”

She also said Democrats’ attempts to tie her to Sarah Palin, whom she introduced at the 2008 Republican National Convention, represent an “unoriginal, cookie-cutter attack.”

“When I ran for mayor of Maui, it was Newt Gingrich. When I ran for governor, it was George Bush. Now, it’s Sarah Palin.”

Lingle noted that the 2012 race is shaping up much like her first run for governor did in 2002, with Rep. Mazie Hirono and former congressman Ed Case running for the Democratic nod to face her. Lingle beat Hirono in the general election.

Fixbits:

The New York Times economics team tells us what’s in Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) matched her challenger, former congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), by raising $1 million in the third quarter.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is launching a leadership PAC. It’s called Reclaim America PAC.

Tim Pawlenty isn’t anxious to run for president or against Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in 2012, but he isn’t ruling out challenging Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) or another run for governor in 2014.

With Minnesota set to hold its caucuses on Feb. 7, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) pays a visit to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) territory.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) leads a rebellion against Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) redistricting map.

Must-reads:

Behind Bachmann’s slide” — Robert Costa, National Review

Obama acknowledges jobs bill will likely be split up” — Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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