Herman Cain is not running for president, not really. In a recently infamous campaign ad, his manager Mark Block claims, after taking a drag on a cigarette that would make lung cancer itself blush, that we’ve never seen a candidate quite like Herman Cain before. I beg to differ. In this last year, we’ve seen two. Cain, along with Donald Trump (remember him?) and Sarah Palin, belongs to a tribe of non-candidates eager to take the national stage among presidential contenders to earn a pretty penny.
You can spot this group from their shared characteristics. First, they tend not to have much political experience. Unless you consider his brief role serving the Federal Reserve in Kansas, Cain has never held political office. Unless you consider his vague desire to run on a third-party slate in the 2000 presidential election, Donald Trump has similarly sparse experience. While Gov. Sarah Palin is the exception, interviews and statements from her vice presidential tour suggest that she failed to take much from that experience.
However, ignorance is bliss for this crowd. Whenever the non-candidates are baited by the news media to explain their short political resumes, they usually stand wide-eyed –– as if this is news to them. And then they turn the question around, using it to attack the unpopular political establishment. Back in May at the South Carolina debate, Herman Cain was prompted to justify his political inexperience in contrast to candidates with senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial experience. He redirected attention against career politicians on Capitol Hill with what may have been the line of the night: “How’s that working out for you?” The non-candidates spin their amateur political state into just what the doctor ordered for a corrupt Washington D.C.
You can also spot the non-candidates by their loose-cannonisms. Donald Trump didn’t just draw notoriety because of his celebrity-status. Trump’s infamy was a product of his campaign focus. Rather than use his time to develop a policy platform, Trump used stump after stump to provoke discussion of President Obama’s birthplace.
Sarah Palin’s pseudo-campaign for president was punctuated by conspiracy theories she adopted to explain the media bias against her. And then she joined the Fox News Network.
Herman Cain’s quick wit lends itself to frequent outbursts. He suggested building an electric fence across the U.S.-Mexico border, complete with alligators and a moat. Then he said he made those remarks in jest. He claimed he would not hire any Muslims to his cabinet if elected President. He reneged on those remarks, too. In a recent interview with CNN, Cain came out on abortion as pro-choice and pro-life, all in the same response.
It’s because of these characteristics –– political inexperience and baffling rhetoric –– that political gurus write off these candidates even when they top the polls, as Herman Cain is doing now. The gurus wait patiently and analyze the serious candidates while they wait for the limelight of public scrutiny to unravel the non-candidates.
At the apogee of their public support, you begin to see the non-candidates for their true motivations. Just before Donald Trump dropped out of the presidential primary, “Celebrity Apprentice”, for which he makes $3 million an episode, was renewed and Trump was one of the most popular searches on Google. His brief waffle into the political sphere recharged his brand.
Sarah Palin launched a reality TV-show, wrote a book for an $11 million deal, got a job in network news television, reined in campaign donations and joined a speakers bureau (you can hire Palin to give a 90-minute speech for $100,000). Only after all that did she finally, and anti-climatically, announce she wouldn’t run for President.
Herman Cain also just released a book. Recent campaign finance documents show he is funneling campaign donations to buy thousands of copies for his motivational speaking company at $36,511. Some analysts suspect Cain is mimicking Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign strategy to sell books in every state. Days before the Florida straw poll, Cain’s camp e-mailed supporters to consider buying a collector’s edition boxed set of his book for loved ones.
The problem with non-candidates is that they derail the primary race. On debate stages and in the news, they represent the lowest common denominator of candidates, dragging other candidates through the mud to attack them on their populist perch. Most recently, we saw this with the New Hampshire debate, where one-third of the time was spent deconstructing Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan (which bears disappointing similarity to the default tax plan in the computer game SimCity).
With the primary races fast approaching, one can only hope that Cain represents the last non-candidate to steal the spotlight.
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