Herman Cain's Big Mistake

More

He's better known for demonizing Muslims than for the one thing that distinguishes him from Republican rivals: his early opposition to universal health care.

Cain-Banner.jpg

On Fox News Sunday, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain took off after his favorite target again. President Obama? Nope. Onerous tax rates? Uh-uh. ACORN? Not even close. Cain was too busy demagoguing Muslims, this time throwing in with protesters who want to stop construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Cain claims that he is driven by a desire to head off the imposition of Sharia law--that phantom menace with which some vanishingly small sliver of the conservative base is feverishly consumed. Cain is their most outspoken champion. (The Muslims in Murfreesboro have worshipped peacefully there for three decades, so whatever nefarious deeds he suspects them of perpetrating aren't much in evidence.) 


What's ugly, rather than merely odd, about Cain's fixation is how far he takes it. In March, Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet if elected president. He later modified that to say that Muslims should prove their loyalty to the U.S. constitution. Yesterday on Fox, host Chris Wallace asked him, "Aren't you willing to restrict people because of their religion?" Cain replied, "I'm willing to take a harder look at people who might be terrorists."

That's an answer fit for a drooling yokel. But Cain is nothing of the sort: he was CEO of Godfather's Pizza, chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Board, and director of Fortune 500 companies such as Whirlpool. He ought to be above such nonsense.

What's really perplexing about Cain's obsession with Muslims, though, is that it's a lousy political strategy---nobody is pro-Sharia law, so it doesn't differentiate him from the rest of the GOP field (or from any Democrat, for that matter). It's an issue that seems likely to deliver a fourth- or fifth-place finish in the Ames straw poll and an ignominious departure from the race.

Meanwhile, Cain has going for him what any half-sentient politician would recognize as political gold, something that would not only distinguish him from the GOP field but in the process point up the greatest weakness of the frontrunner, Mitt Romney: Cain was passionately against universal healthcare back in 1994, and took on its champion at the time, Bill Clinton, in a memorable confrontation that made national news. Here's the clip:




So here we have Cain on record condemning a Democratic president for his health care plan a full 15 years before Obamacare. Cain can justifiably tell conservatives that he was a seer. This ought to be his ticket to GOP stardom. If he had any sense at all he would remind people of his opposition at every opportunity and do his utmost in debates and candidate forums to contrast his record with that of Romney, who of course signed a universal health care law in Massachusetts that became the model for Obamacare. Other candidates have assailed the new health care law, promised to repeal it, or vowed to issue waivers. But none can match Cain's purity, the evidence of which is sitting right there on YouTube just waiting to rocket around the web.

Instead, Cain hasn't laid a glove on the frontrunner, spends much of his time tilting at windmills like Sharia law, and remains stuck at around 10 percent in the polls. The vast majority of Republicans, in other words, don't want Cain to be their nominee. You'd think that a guy as sharp with numbers as the CEO in that clip would do the math and realize his error.


Jump to comments
Presented by

Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In