The Permanent Campaign
Even as the political world awaits the further unfolding of Herman Cain’s handling of sexual harassment allegations, one of his rivals is on the brink of making a strategic decision that could have an even greater impact on the Republican presidential nominating contest, and on the general election as well. Will Mitt Romney go for a “quick kill” by focusing his vast resources on a serious bid to win the Iowa Caucuses just two months from now?
The trouble Herman Cain is experiencing with Politico’s scoop on an alleged past settlement of sexual harassment charges—as well as his initial reaction to it—was, in many respects, predictable. Ever since the pizza executive’s improbable rise to the top of Republican presidential polls, there have been vague but menacing predictions that the new scrutiny he would face could quickly burst the bubble of his candidacy. Likewise, Cain’s pose as a victim of a politically, and perhaps racially, motivated smear was also predictable, but could prove remarkably effective.
In a famously flawed Republican presidential field, Newt Gingrich somehow manages to combine all his rivals’ shortcomings. Like Herman Cain, he seems more interested in selling books than in running for president. Like Mitt Romney, he struggles to connect with real people. Like Rick Perry, he has offended conservatives with a major policy heresy. Like Michele Bachmann, he often comes across as a theocratic crank. Like Ron Paul, he is a pedant who doesn’t know when to go away. Like Rick Santorum, he is a has-been who would disappear if not for televised debates.
By any conventional standard, Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy should be a bad memory by now. From roughly mid-September to mid-October, he had about as bad a month as a candidate could have. He was consistently hesitant, defensive, and inarticulate in a series of high-profile candidate debates. But more importantly, he gave deep offense to conservatives by continuing to support a Texas program providing in-state college tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants.
When the entire candidate field opened fire on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax proposal in Tuesday night’s Republican debate in Las Vegas, you could almost hear the sound of hundreds of exhaled breaths in elite GOP circles. Cain’s improbable rise in national and early-state polls would now end, they probably figured, as GOP voters discovered the pizza man’s signature policy proposal wasn’t terribly well thought out. But it’s likely that Cain could have overcome the criticisms surrounding his tax proposal.
In the many baleful assessments of the 2012 Republican presidential field, the running joke for months has been “somebody has to win.” Indeed, that seems to be the main reason so many pundits are confident that Mitt Romney, a candidate the party’s rank-and-file conservative stalwarts clearly don’t like and don’t want to nominate, will ultimately win the prize.
The shape of the 2012 Republican presidential contest has now assumed a strange, shadowy form. The original front-runner, Mitt Romney, is the front-runner again, and is rapidly consolidating elite acknowledgment as the probable nominee. But his levels of actual support among GOP voters and conservative activists seem to have barely budged. Rick Perry, the political Leviathan who threatened to put the whole contest away just a month ago, is in deep trouble, bleeding support everywhere and alienating his Tea Party base with a toxic position on immigration.
The latest big phenomenon in the Republican presidential nominating contest is the sudden collapse of Rick Perry, who looked to be consolidating a formidable lead just a month ago.
We’re at a very strange juncture in the 2012 presidential contest. Rick Perry continues to struggle, as Mitt Romney savagely exploits his offensive-to-conservatives position on immigration and the Texan deals with new, potentially damaging revelations of a racially insensitive name for a hunting camp rented by his family. But Romney’s not benefitting much in the polls, and he remains a persona non grata to many conservatives.
Former pizza magnate Herman Cain’s upset victory in the September 24 Florida Republican straw poll, and his subsequent rise to a competitive third place position in at least one national poll, are being generally interpreted as a function of GOP voter unhappiness with previous “top-tier” candidates (Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and arguably Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul).