Herman Cain's Smooth Talk

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Roughed up in Tuesday's debate, Cain still wins over audiences by dismissing his critics as a bunch of clueless politicians

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LAS VEGAS -- It's not going to be that easy to take down Herman Cain.

The day after he got kicked around in a Republican debate, the charismatic former Godfather's Pizza CEO addressed the Western Republican Leadership Conference here to answer all the criticism.

"I've been criticized for having such a sense of humor," he said. "I suppose since I'm running for president, I'm supposed to be politically correct. I'm supposed to be presidential. I ain't going to change. No."

The crowd, like most crowds Cain addresses, ate it up, even when it didn't make much sense. (No one has actually criticized Cain for having a sense of humor, although The New York Times has analyzed his jokes.)

Cain may not be a professional politician, but he is a professional speaker -- a Baptist preacher, radio host and paid giver of motivational speeches. He's good at this. And he can talk his way out of a lot of jams, especially when there's nobody around to challenge him.

His rivals, Cain complained, have attacked his economic plans.

"My fellow Republican contenders say, 'You can't do that.' I say, 'Why?' 'Well, it won't pass.' That's when I said to Senator Santorum, 'See, therein lies the difference between a politician and a problem solver.' The politician wants to put together what they can pass. A problem solver puts together what it'll take to fix the problem! Let's fix stuff in Washington, D.C. for a change!"

Except Santorum and the others' principal critique of Cain's "9-9-9" plan isn't that it's unpassable -- they, and every independent analyst of the plan, point out that it would raise taxes on a lot of people, particularly the poor. (Later in the speech, Cain claimed 9-9-9 contained a provision to ease the burden on the poor, but he said he had intentionally concealed this aspect, and he didn't give any details.)

And Cain doesn't exactly explain how he's going to "fix stuff" without being able to pass legislation. His whole "fix stuff" refrain, in fact, was awfully reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live skit in which an exasperated "analyst" implores those in charge to "fix it!"

The more Cain's opponents -- politicians all -- attack him and his incoherent proposals, the more fuel they give to his regular-guy shtick. Let the pointy-headed pundits tut-tut him; they only lend credence to his outsider persona.

"I love y'all. The American people get it, you get it," he said. "It's the ones in Washington, D.C., that have a vested interest in the current tax code, they don't want 9-9-9 to succeed. And it is driving them crazy that the public is catching on to it and you like it. You're talking about it."

Cain had a particularly tough time in the debate with questions on foreign policy. But there, too, he played the amateur who sees what the experts can't.

"I have consulted with foreign policy experts. Let me tell you what they have told me: 'Herman, all you need is character and common sense and intelligence, and we have plenty of people who can help fill in the details,'" he said.

If you believe it's that easy, Herman Cain is your candidate.

Image credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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