John McCormack in the Weekly Standard comes up with a to-do list for Herman Cain, whom he praises as “ideologically in tune” with the conservative base and who is a “great speaker and has a good sense of humor.” All Cain needs to do is: run a real campaign in early states, fix the flawed economic plan that is the totality of his message (in part because the conservative base will never go for a regressive sales tax), explain why he had exactly the same position as Mitt Romney on TARP (which the conservative base loathed), learn something about foreign policy (and presumably support needed defense spending and reject isolationism) and stop making “incendiary” statements that make him sound like a crackpot. Simple enough. And then he can wrap this baby up.
Intended or not, this deadpan accounting of Cain’s strengths and weaknesses suggests that he’s an entertaining conservative (appropriate since he was a radio talk show host) but otherwise completely deficient as a potential president and commander in chief.
You can add to the list of deficiencies his refusal to disclose either his foreign policy or economic advisers. Are they cranks and, therefore, would be harmful to his campaign if their names were disclosed? If they have business positions that would be hurt by their association with Cain how does he (and how do we) know he is getting advice free from self-interest? Frankly, you have to wonder if such people even exist, given the lack of evidence that he has spent time formulating any clear views on foreign policy.
Cain is, in essence, the un-Rubio or the un-Ryan. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) aren’t as funny as Cain, but neither has a history of making incendiary comments or is ignorant and unformed on foreign policy. Ryan has developed thoughtful and comprehensive plans for entitlement reform. Ryan put together an aggressive but reasonable budget to put us on a glide-path to a balanced budget; Cain ludicrously promises to balance the budget in one year without Social Security or Medicare cuts. Neither of them ran for president, so instead we get Cain. Or put differently, “with all due respect to Cain, to some degree voting for him is voting for none of the above.”
In 2008 Americans elected someone they found charismatic (I never got that, but many did) but who was an incompetent ideologue selling snake oil by the barrel. It would seem what the GOP and the country need to dig us out of President Obama’s mess is not an un-Rubio or an un-Ryan but an un-Obama, a leader who understands our international threats and can weave together serious domestic reforms equal to the challenges we face at home. Conservatives may have antipathy toward Mitt Romney (or be unresponsive to the red-hot intensity of Rick Santorum), but let’s not pretend that Cain is the real deal. We are talking about the presidency and the fate of America’s economy and national security, for goodness’ sake.
UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): Cain didn’t help matters on his appearance on “Meet the Press” this morning. Despite the odd lack of follow-ups from David Gregory, Cain managed to trip himself up with some head-scratchers. On Afghanistan: “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 go into determining whether or not there is a definition of victory in Afghanistan.” This is nonsense; the president defines the mission and what victory would look like.
Despite multiple studies showing the 9-9-9 plan would be regressive, all he would admit was that some taxpayers will pay more and some less. He insisted that Americans would escape from paying a lot of compliance costs. But these costs are generally incurred by high-income taxpayers, right? (No, Gregory didn’t ask that, but he should have.) Perhaps next time Newt Gingrich should do the questioning. Appearing on Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union”, Gingrich explained that the plan wouldn’t get cheers “in New Hampshire, for example, where they have no sales tax at all and no mechanism for collecting it, or in Iowa, where senior citizens are going to say, wait a second, as my 79-year-old mother-in-law said on her Social Security, in her fixed income, she’s now going to pay 9 percent more?”