We love this guy! (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

In the reality show of the GOP nomination, Herman Cain is a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality.

During the “Pick a Running Mate” Challenge last debate — one of the weaker episodes of “The Weakest Link” I’ve ever seen — Cain dominated, tying with Gingrich as the most picked mate. Rick Perry even hoped somehow to mate together Gingrich and Cain, in an image that will keep Mitt Romney awake nights.

Who doesn’t like Herman Cain?

He speaks clearly and memorably, sometimes at the same time. Florida voters heard he was bringing a Chilean model to solve their Social Security problem, and by the time they realized he was actually referring to an economic plan, it was too late.

Even Sarah Palin likes him, speaking highly of someone she calls “Herb Cain” who is “doing so well right now. . . . He’s, I guess you could say, with all due respect, the flavor of the week because Herb Cain is the one up there who doesn’t look like he’s part of that permanent political class. Herb Cain — he came from a working-class family. He’s had to make it on his own all these years. We respect that.”

Hey, at least she didn’t call him Herm — “Only my enemies call me Herm,” Cain says.

Palin is right that the GOP nomination process at present is a reality show. And in the test of reality TV — who can appear most real? — Cain is winning by several heads.

Appearing real and being real are two different things. Palin knows this. It’s the beauty pageanter’s gift, the secret to her success. Some people who are perfectly congenial in actual life and as real as they come, when placed on television or behind a podium, turn into quivering lumps of gelatin and have to be removed by their handlers. Forget seeming real. Most GOP candidates will settle for appearing lifelike.

Herman Cain, meanwhile, when he isn’t singing powerful renditions of “Must Tell Jesus,” is charming the pants off the electorate. He smiles behind the podium. He wears gold ties. He doesn’t look nervous and constipated, like nearly everyone to left and right of him. One gets the sense that he is enjoying himself. And he is keeping it simple and logical. His two big policy ideas are the only things I remember from the past 20 years, a timeframe that includes almost my entire childhood.

“Nein, Nein, Nein,” was my favorite economic plan — Ron Paul’s methods taken to an extreme, and in German — until I realized it was actually a system to simplify the tax code by implementing 9 percent flat income, corporate, and national sales taxes.

But the difficulty with Herman Cain — and why, like Ron Paul, in spite of his tremendous grass-roots popularity, no one seems to be taking him more seriously than French Toast Vanilla (flavor of the week at my Baskin Robbins) is that this isn’t reality TV.

It’s like the “Real World,”as far as the Republican field can be said to represent a real anything, which is increasingly doubtful. It doesn’t even look like the “Real World.” The MTV recruiters would take one look at the overwhelmingly pale, conservative field and fire whoever was responsible, in spite of his protests that “We have ideological diversity! Sort of!”

But in the meantime there’s Herman Cain, audience favorite.

“Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy,” Oscar Wilde once noted. That is the secret of popularity — produce as few effects as possible. And except for failing to produce any economic advisers and making some offensive remarks about Muslims and Planned Parenthood, Cain has been a master of producing no tangible effects whatsoever.

What’s the point? Why ruin the magic?

Miss Congenialities never win the pageant. That’s why everyone likes them.