Saturday, December 3, 2011

Herman Cain: Wasted Potential

In case you were under a rock today, Herman Cain announced earlier that he is suspending his presidential campaign. There's a million articles up already with the details of what he said, so I'm not going to bother with rehashing the announcement. Instead, I'd like to put down a few thoughts on the campaign and where it all went wrong.

First of all, I'd like to start out by commending the Florida team of Cain supporters. There are some really phenomenal people who were on the Cain Train, and they should be proud of themselves. State Representative Scott Plakon, a solid conservative and one of my favorite legislators, was the first elected official to endorse Cain and has been a tireless champion on his behalf. Patricia Sullivan is one of the most well-respected tea party organizers in Florida and was another early supporter (side note: I really hope Patricia runs for office again soon. She is the definition of awesomeness). Deborah Cox Roush had been an amazing leader for the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee and had been lending her amazing organizational and grassroots mobilization efforts to the campaign. There are many others who have worked hard here and they should hold their heads up high today.

Last night, I was at an event honoring former Attorney General and Congressman Bill McCollum's public service career, and Rudy Giuliani was one of the speakers. McCollum had been the statewide chair of Giuliani's 2008 campaign, and I had volunteered locally for him. Seeing Giuliani reminded me of how frustrating it was to work so hard in Florida, only to watch a campaign fall apart at the national level.

Giuliani had an amazing team here. Kathryn Staczek Rudloff was his statewide field director, and she was a force of nature (Note to candidates: if you ever get a chance to hire her, you should be willing to walk across hot coals to make it happen). We had well-organized coalition groups and lots of volunteers, excited about a candidate who was an inspirational leader with a track record of solid conservative solutions as mayor of New York City...and we watched in dismay as the national campaign made the disastrous decision to completely skip Iowa and New Hampshire.

It's a similar situation this year with Herman Cain. Cain is a powerful, uplifting speaker who fundamentally understands the principles that make this country great, and he has had an amazing professional career with a track record as a problem solver and a winner. Back in the spring, when I had a chance to talk with him before an Americans for Prosperity event in Tallahassee, I told Cain that I knew he was a long shot, but I was glad he was running for president because I believed that he would help keep the rest of the candidates honest and would push the discussion in a more conservative direction.

In that regard, he succeeded. The 9-9-9 Plan had its detractors, but it was a bold idea. Our income tax system is so bloated, complicated, and corrupt, that almost any system that wipes it out and replaces it would be an improvement. Several other candidates have come out with their own tax reform plans, and it's fair to say that the enthusiasm people showed for the 9-9-9 Plan encouraged them to be bold in their own proposals. (For the record, Giuliani had a great income tax plan in 2008, look it up sometime.)

So, with Cain we had a charismatic, energizing speaker, with a successful business track record, and a campaign strategy that didn't make much sense. It's fine to be an unconventional candidate but there are certain truths to political campaigns, especially at the presidential level, that cannot be denied. It's not a far trip from pleasantly quirky to alarmingly weird. Running for President is auditioning to be leader of the free world and the world's greatest capitalist economy. It's a big job, a serious job, and if voters don't think a candidate is taking it seriously, they'll quickly lose faith.

I am left with the feeling that Cain's national staff were running an elaborate prank rather than a professional campaign. 

A blow-by-blow of some of the worst points:
  • Yes, the mainstream media is unfair to conservatives. You have two choices: whine about it all day long, or accept it as reality and keep working hard. Every time there was a challenge, Cain's campaign took the ill-advised route of trying to tell reporters that it wasn't newsworthy. When Cain made a confusing statement that made it sound as if he were pro-choice, they tried to fix it with "I am 100% pro-life. End of story." Telling a reporter something isn't a story is the quickest way to get them to redouble their efforts. The campaign never learned this lesson - even last week, Lin Wood was attempting to claim that the latest allegations were "not a proper subject of inquiry." To borrow a slogan from Herman Cain himself, "how's that working out for ya?"
  • One of the ways that conservatives can fight back against the mainstream media is through blogs and other alternative media outlets, but as soon as the campaign started surging, a pattern developed of backstabbing and shutting out previous allies. Conservative filmmaker Ladd Ehlinger has a brutally critical post about his interactions with the campaign, how they recruited him to join the campaign and led him on after they had already signed an exclusive contract with someone else. That is not how professional and ethical campaigns operate. Sadly, as Ehlinger reports, what happened to him was not an isolated incident and the campaign was making a habit of burning bridges all over the country.
  • It wasn't just an issue of disgruntled people who wanted jobs and didn't get them. Reading posts from bloggers like Jimmie Bise, Jr. at the Sundries Shack and Robert Stacy McCain as they expressed their frustration with the campaign and then finally gave up support is downright heartbreaking. McCain especially had been one of Cain's biggest cheerleaders from the beginning, and he's left lamenting the demise of  a once-promising campaign. If you are fighting a battle with the mainstream media, why would you spit in the eye of bloggers who are more than happy to help you get your message out? 
  • I've said this before, but if you're running for office, you have to be prepared to deal with your baggage. If we give Cain the benefit of the doubt and view the allegations in the most positive light, he still had multiple sexual harassment accusations from his time at the National Restaurant Association and had a friendship with a woman his wife didn't know about where he was sending her money. Either Cain didn't inform his staff of these issues or they didn't do the background searches that any prudent campaign team should have. Or worse, they all knew about these issues and didn't think they had to prepare for the day that they might become public.
  • The accusations did more harm than they might otherwise have because the campaign's responses were slow and contradictory. Mark Block, JD Gordon, Lin Wood, and Herman Cain himself all gave different answers and seemed like they hadn't been able to coordinate with each other. Even people like me who were willing to give Cain the benefit of the doubt were uneasy hearing so many contradictory answers. It makes it very hard to have faith that what we're hearing is the truth.
  • Running for President means running for Commander in Chief. Cain's a smart man but the unpreparedness on foreign policy answers was inexcusable (and the final straw for me personally). It's disappointing because he seemed to have the "big concepts" right - Israel is our friend and an important ally, military missions must have clarity, Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear power, etc. - and I have faith that anyone who rose through the business world the way Cain did could have learned what he needed to know. So what the heck happened? This is partly Cain's fault and partly his staff's fault. Someone is supposed to be preparing briefing materials for the candidate so gaffes like the "wet foot dry foot" incident in Miami don't happen.
  • It's important to be prepared for success as well as failure. Cain won Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll based on Perry's stumbles at the debate and his own personal charisma, and then the national campaign dragged its feet and bumbled around, wasting time and energy and having trouble capitalizing on that victory. I had personally spoken with JD Gordon, Jamie Brazil, and a number of people who ended up on the Florida staff, and knew the names of who would be involved for over a week before they were announced, but wasn't given permission to disclose it on the record. In the meantime, the press wrote story after story declaring that there was no organization in Florida and supporters were very frustrated. I can't see why the Florida team couldn't have been put under contract and publicly announced a week or so before they were.
  • One aspect of the dysfunctional nature of the national campaign team is how they were careless about things that deserved more prudence. There was a meeting in Tampa the weekend before the Florida team was officially announced and a lot of confidential information was discussed, but no one was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The technology team emailed me the mp3 file for the ad they were running on Rush Limbaugh's radio program days beforehand, with no restrictions on what I might do with it initially, and then a last-minute request to not publish it until the ad debuted on the show. Campaigns are chaotic by nature and you can't possibly control every detail, but there were too many examples like this that left me scratching my head.
As a final note, I've met Mark Block and Linda Hansen once, at that meeting in Tampa, and have had a number of conversations with JD Gordon and Jamie Brazil. The message I got over and over from the national team was a determination to "break all the rules" of campaigning. I refuse to believe what many others have said, that Herman Cain was running for president "just to sell books," but I'm left with the feeling that the campaign staff was trying to prove some kind of point that I just don't understand. It just breaks my heart because I saw the potential of Cain as not just a candidate, but as a motivator of people and advocate for conservative principles. 

What I find even more upsetting is the numerous people who put their heart and soul into supporting Cain's campaign, and who have now been betrayed.  Francisco Gonzalez, a supporter in Tallahassee, wrote a powerful blog post a few days ago discussing why he was backing Cain, and there's a sincerity and power in his words that I hope one of the other Republican candidates can capture. Making Barack Obama a one term President is going to be a difficult task, requiring dedication, energy, and unity from the conservative base, and it is deeply disappointing that Herman Cain had so much potential, and so many people freely gave of their time, money, and energy, only to have it squandered so quickly.

UPDATE: Scott Plakon sent me a text message that he was still optimistic, "onward and upward!" and posted the following statement on his Facebook page:
Herman Cain just left the Presidential race. I am at the Orange County Convention Center today at my daughters cheer competition. It was 10 weeks ago today that the foundations of the campaign were shaken right here when Herman Cain overwhelmingly won the straw poll. What really happened on that day was that We the People said that we had had ENOUGH of the business as usual in Washington. We the People said we are ready for bold, perhaps even politically risky solutions, so that we may hand over a better America to our children that we were given...just like every generation before us. We the People will now make our voices heard in 2012 in DEMANDING that our voices (and those of our children's children) be heard. THANK you to the thousands of volunteers that made the Cain for Florida Organization the best in any state and the most effective of the other Florida campaigns. We the People made a BIG difference and will continue to do so.
Further reading:

State Rep. Scott Plakon, a Cain supporter, "I'm disappointed he didn't make it farther. But we the people really made a difference here. He put actual solutions on the table that were bold. That has helped move the debate forward. We need significant tax and economic reform. This was a very personal decision with his family. He's a smart guy and he looked at all the factors and reassessed."
By now, many of Cain's supporters were cashing out. Seemingly random and politically motivated charges had morphed into a disturbing, if not irrefutable, pattern. At best, it was a mess.

Some erstwhile Cain fans pointed to avoidable missteps along the way.

Sarah Rumpf, a Florida-based Republican blogger and early Cain supporter, said she was "disappointed" in his national campaign team."

When the sexual-harassment stories broke, "the campaign's response was like they never saw it coming," Rumpf said.

"And what was with that Mark Block smoking ad anyway? It was like a merry band of pranksters masquerading as communications strategists," observed Rumpf, who now lists herself as undecided.

...But it’s not just about me. It’s about people who supported Herman Cain who have been screwed over by that kind of routine incompetence by staffers who were being paid to do jobs at which they failed.
The Other McCain | Excrement Impacts Air Circulation Device

People who hope and believe that Herman Cain will keep going and may actually mount a miracle comeback are demanding that someone — or better yet, everyone — on the senior campaign staff be fired, if not indeed horsewhipped within an inch of their miserable lives. 
“I’m a little pissed” – that one source severely understates the wrath of many people who love Herman Cain, but hate his campaign.
Inevitably, however, the helpless confusion of the campaign reflects on the candidate: He’s the guy whose business expertise is about finding the right people to focus on the right problem. But the people he has found — well, they are the problem.
“How the f–k is he going to run the country if he can’t run a g–d–d campaign?”
UPDATE II: Great article by Marc Caputo:

Miami Herald | 10 political lessons from Herman Cain's campaign

UPDATE III: RedState's Erick Erickson, calling the suspension of Cain's campaign "a sad ending for a good man," writes:
But let’s be real clear here. Herman Cain did not get wiped out by an affair or allegations of sexual harassment, frivolous or otherwise. He got wiped out because those allegations threw him off his game and then he kept stumbling through attacks on his 999 plan, his foreign policy issues, and his campaign staff generally beclowning themselves with allegations, retracted allegations, and retracted retractions of allegations, etc.


  1. thanks for writing this. I thought this was just a sex scandal bringing down a candidate but I'm wondering if a better campaign would have been able to get through it.

    I wasn't completely sold on Cain but did like him and agree with you that this mess is "heartbreaking."

  2. Excellent post. In the end his decision to pull out underscored his lack of qualifications in running.

    You can't just quit the Presidency "for your family" when it gets hard. I can't imagine he wouldn't have had the foresight to take this into account BEFORE he ran. It shows a lack of planning and foresight that would harm not just his family were he President, but the country itself.

    All along I scratched my head not just at the poor professionals a successful team builder surrounded himself with - but an utter incomprehensible lack of understanding of HOW elections are won. It is a "business" of sorts with its own models and catalysts.

    If he couldn't master how campaigns work - why would we believe he could understand "government."

    The free market of ideas and "campaigning" worked. Perhaps in four or eight years.

    I was also (negatively) struck by the lack of focus on what he said on Hannity the night before last. Namely that HE WOULD DO WHATEVER IT TOOK TO CLEAR HIS NAME. I didn't hear that as a priority at all and, if successful, might have even positioned him as a VP choice. No way Newt can consider someone who brings the "womanizer" issue into play however.

  3. sounds like the campaign should have hired you. they really had no idea what they were doing, did they?

  4. Good job Sunshine Sarah. I knew there was a reason I visited your blog. You really did a excellent job with this one. Listen to me with the economics. Thanks for the inside look. 5 stars.

  5. Now that Herman's no longer a factor, we're left with the Mormon candidate religious conservatives love to hate, and the former House Speaker, who has been through multiple divorces. THAT should appease "values" voters. I'm going to keep watching out of sheer morbid curiosity.

  6. I'm voting for Herman Cain anyway and so is my husband. I've read enough of these hatchet jobs and know that he was the best candidate. That hasn't changed. So unfortunately i am taking this story off my page especially since it hasn't been the ONLY Cain attack i've read from here.

  7. Dear totustuus - respectfully, you are oversimplifying my position on Cain. I had a high opinion of him and wrote many positive posts. But I have to be realistic and honest, and the fact is that the campaign just was not run well, especially the last month of it.

    How much of that was Cain's fault directly and how much was bad advice he got, I don't know.

    What I do know is that I've spoken with lots of Cain supporters and statewide staffers over the past few months and not a darn one of them accused me of doing a "hatchet job" on him.


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