By Ernest Corea*
WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – Behold! Another stirrer-upper. As an evangelical stream of consciousness moves through the Republican Party, this could well be how some activists reacted to the news that on Saturday, September 24 Herman Cain, would-be presidential candidate and former chief executive officer (CEO) of the Godfather brand of pizza won the party’s straw poll in Florida. He is the only African-American seeking the Republican nomination.
Five days earlier, the average nationwide polling figures for Republicans running for party nomination to oppose President Barack Obama were Rick Perry 27.6 percent, Mitt Romney 21.6, Michelle Bachman 8.2, Ron Paul 7.8, Newt Gingrich 6.2, Cain 5.2, Santorum 2.0, and Jon Huntsman 1.2. Cain’s jump from that low point to first place in Florida, stirs up the Republican race, even if only temporarily.
Cain picked up 37 percent of the votes cast in Florida, leaving frontrunner Rick Perry well behind in second place with 15 percent, and Mitt Romney whose name was on the ballot although he did not campaign in Florida with 14 percent. Michelle Bachman who won the Ames, Iowa straw poll finished last. That’s the kind of result that a stirrer-upper creates.
Straw polls are an informal, non-binding and unscientific measurement of public support or opposition. They do not actually produce primary votes, although they usually evoke great enthusiasm among party loyalists. Florida’s straw poll, however, is credited with some predictive value.
Ronald Reagan (1971), George H. W. Bush (1991) and Bob Dole (1995) won the Florida straw poll before each of them went on to be named as their party’s candidate.
Stirring It Up
Turning to someone who can “stir things up” appears to be the common recourse of the Republican establishment when it fears that the party’s campaign is stuck in a rut or, in some other way, is disempowered.
Even today, some four years after the event, the need to “stir up the campaign” is the excuse provided by Republican supporters for Senator McCain’s decision to name Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Perry, too, was expected to “stir things up” when he entered the current Republican primaries, and he sure did – rapidly displacing frontrunner Mitt Romney whose electability had been questioned.
Now, Cain has stirred things up all over again. Is this a real stirring up or just a passing moment, like that of hot pizza dough bubbling as it comes of the oven and before it cools down?
Political observers do not yet place Cain within the top tier of Republican aspirants and have described his showing in Florida as both a reaction and a warning to Perry. His bumbling performance in debates and his views on such “hot button” Republican issues as immigration have been less than satisfactory to the far-right, better known as the Tea Party, which had showered him with raucous support.
Cain, not surprisingly, dismisses the notion that he benefitted from a “protest vote” and casts his Florida showing as a sign of true momentum. “Message is more powerful than money,” he said on the NBC network’s popular ‘Today’ show.
Church and State
Cain is a product of the high prestige Morehouse College whose alumni include Martin Luther King Jr. and Spike Lee. In addition to his career as CEO with Godfather’s Pizza, he was also the chairman of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He served the navy as a civilian employee specializing in ballistics. He writes a regular newspaper column and makes periodic appearances over television.
He established his credentials when he said that if elected president he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet because Islam does not provide for separation between church and state. Cain is a minister of the Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cain would also have secured bonus points from the Tea Party when he took on Morgan Freeman who described the conservative group as “a racist thing.” Freeman went on to say: “Their stated policy is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term. What underlies that? ‘Screw the country. We’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man outa here.”
Perry, meanwhile, preparing for his next public debate on October 11, has much to think about as he looks back on such a galaxy of unforced errors that he provoked one conservative commentator to react with “yikes,” and another to dismiss him as a “buffoon.”
At a time when “electability” matters so much to the Republicans, his performance in debates has really caused doubts among party faithful who welcomed his entry into the race for nomination.
Initially, his capacity to “stir things up,” enliven the debate and fire up the party’s “base” – added to his fund raising skills and his actual experience as a governor – was strong enough to make the faithful forget reported infirmities. Now, they have real evidence to consider.
Here is how he said how he would react when asked if, as president, he was awoken at 3 am and informed that Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile had fallen into the hands of terrorists:
“Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that’s one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen (chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff) that Haqqani has been involved with – and that’s the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country – so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows they are an ally of the United States.”
Aside from the density of Perry’s verbal fog, this statement also exposed a streak of ignorance or distaste for truth: few US administrations have bent over backwards to respect India’s place in the South Asian region and the world as the Obama administration has done.
Another example of Perryitis was provided when he tried to take a crack at Romney’s much discussed weakness for flip flopping. Perry said (this is verbatim) – and he appeared to be reading out from a prepared text when he did so:
“I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of or against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it – was before – he was before the social programs from the standpoint of – he was standing up for Roe versus Wade before he was against first – Roe versus Wade? Him – he was for Race to the Top. He’s for Obamacare and now he’s against it. I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and – and – and see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to tonight.”
Room for More
Perry is correct when he says that a candidate should not be judged only on his/her debating skill. Some politicians have that skill, others do not, as Perry has now firmly established in full public view and hearing.
Nevertheless, coherence in communication is a required quality in national leaders. There are occasions when a leader can get by with the assistance of speechwriters or letter drafters. There are others – for instance, in direct conversation with a hostile head of state or government – when he or she has to do the job all by himself/herself.
Republicans currently in the primaries are of uneven quality as communicators. That, if nothing else, has emerged from the tedium of ceaseless debates within the party. Hence, the hope among party loyalists even now that other potential candidates will jump in. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 27, 2011]
*The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.
Ernest Corea’s previous IDN articles:
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