He’s a novice in Washington. He has no national security experience. He’s charismatic but, frankly, ignorant. He bristles when challenged on his errors. And yet we elected Barack Obama in 2008. So with that experience in mind, why would Republicans contemplate nominating Herman Cain?

On the surface, it is nearly inexplicable. As I and a slew of others have pointed out, there are significant problems, if not fatal flaws, with the centerpiece of his campaign, the 9-9-9 plan. But perhaps equally disturbing are the lack of ideas and knowledge about a wide range of topics. The Post reports:

He pledges support for Israel, but says he has too little information to opine on the war in Afghanistan or on events unfolding in other nations. . . .

And Cain is unapologetic about the single-mindedness of his campaign. Asked recently whether he would be able to name the president of Uzbekistan, Cain mocked the name of the Central Asian nation and spoke derisively of “small insignificant states.”

“When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’ And then I’m going to say, ‘How’s that going to create one job?’ ” Cain said in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“When I get ready to go visit that country, I’ll know who it is,” he continued. “But until then I want to focus on the big issues that we need to solve.”

It is not only the lack of detail, but also the lack of any views or interest in a range of issues that is bracing. Some would argue that instincts and character are what matter in a president. But do we know what those are?

Cain’s “instincts” have produced a 9-9-9 plan that is widely ridiculed and a demand for Muslims to take a special oath. (After the firestorm he reversed himself.) His “instinct” was to laud Alan Greenspan, perhaps one of the central players in creating the housing bubble.

So why is it that so many conservatives are showing support for him? Well, for starters, until the last week or so most voters knew practically nothing about him. They saw a charismatic, funny, anti-establishment figure. Hey, he’s a good guy. And so, as they have done with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and then with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, they leaped before they looked.

It’s also the case that many in the hardcore base have run out of options. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t run. Mike Huckabee didn’t run. Perry proved to be a mirage. Now they’re hoping Cain will be the one to spare them from Mitt Romney. As with Perry, it’s not Cain but the idea of a rebel outsider with no patience for liberal elites that is the attraction.

Unfortunately for Cain and his followers, 2012 is a must-win election for the GOP. Moreover, the country is a mess, and the Democrats will fight tooth and nail to keep the White House and, if a Republican wins, to prevent conservative reform. Cain and like-minded Tea Partyers helped turn the tide of public opinion against Obama’s statist agenda and energize the base. But now that the opportunity is there to win the White House, to repeal Obamacare, to reform the tax code, to redesign entitlement programs, to recalibrate our regulatory system, and to refashion our national security policies, is Cain the right man for the job? It’s hard to see that he is, but stay tuned.