Herman Cain Endorses Romney, Expects to Campaign With Him

At a hastily called press conference, and flanked by fellow also-ran Michele Bachmann, Cain calls for GOP unity.

Herman Cain, flanked by Reps. Steve King and Michele Bachmann, endorses Mitt Romney in Washington on Wednesday. (Molly Ball)

The spirit of 2009 was alive on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon.

There was Steve King, the conservative Iowa congressman. There was his more polished, nationally famous colleague, Rep. Michele Bachmann. And of course the headlining out-of-town star: Herman Cain. The erstwhile Republican presidential frontrunner was in town speaking to the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, which Bachmann founded, and decided it was the moment to make an endorsement.

Or, to be more accurate, another endorsement. In January, Cain endorsed "we the people." Nine days later, he endorsed Newt Gingrich. And in April, he nearly endorsed Romney -- saying, "it looks like Mitt Romney's going to be that nominee, and we do need to get behind him" -- although that evidently wasn't official. A press conference to announce the latest endorsement was hastily called at the National Republican Club. Despite the starpower, it was somewhat sparsely attended. The audience was about evenly split between three groups: the press; a dozen or so curious realtors, in town for a rally Thursday, who saw the assembly and wandered over to ask who was speaking; and the aging white men in well-tailored suits who can always be found puttering around such clubs. The speakers were occasionally overpowered by the low rumble of passing tour buses.

As for the endorsement, it wasn't exactly gushing. "We as conservatives know that in order to win, we have got to rally around our nominee," Cain said. "It is clear that Governor Mitt Romney is going to be our nominee, so I wanted to formally endorse him today." In a nod to the fact that Romney is not exactly a darling of the GOP's conservative wing, he added, "I know there are lot of people who may not be as excited as some of us about the process, or as excited about the ultimate nominee. It's really simple. Governor Romney gets it right on the big issues. President Obama gets it wrong on all the big issues."

Later, asked whether he was concerned about the presumptive nominee's past support for individual mandates and tax increases, Cain essentially said Romney's governing record ought to be disregarded, since he had sworn to repeal Obamacare. "In the words of my grandfather, what Governor Romney did in Massachusetts, I does not care," Cain explained. What about his prior backing for other candidate? "My endorsement evolved," Cain quipped, a reference to Obama's description of how he came to support gay marriage.

There was much talk of Tea Party unity and power. "We're here to tell you that the Tea Party is more alive than ever before and gaining steam across America," Bachmann said while introducing Cain. He picked up the theme. "When people ask, is the Tea Party dead? The answer is, can you say Richard Mourdock of Indiana, and can you say Sue Fischer of Nebraska?" Cain said, stumbling over the name of Deb Fischer, who won an upset victory in the Republican Senate primary Tuesday. "And when people ask the question, will the Tea Party be as effective in 2012 as it was in 2008? The answer is no, it's going to be more effective in 2012 than it was in 2008," he added, forgetting that the group was founded in 2009.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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