Why Herman Cain Isn't the Next Republican It Girl

Despite his sharp rise in polls, Cain is not a serious candidate

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Sarah Palin and Chris Christie are sitting out the 2012 campaign. Rick Perry is struggling. Does that make Herman Cain the new anti-Mitt Romney? When The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray asked the candidate himself that question, Cain said no -- he's so much more than that. "I'm emerging as the people's candidate," Cain told Murray. But it's not clear whether Cain is running a campaign or a publicity tour. He's taking weeks off to promote his presumptuously-titled new book, This Is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House, instead trying to make the most of his sudden surge in several polls by knocking on doors in Iowa. As Cain told The New York TimesSusan Saulny, "It was a gamble on the part of Simon & Schuster... They get kudos for believing in me and this campaign. Now they're going to cash in. That's the way it works."

It's clear that Cain is serious about making money. But about the presidential race? There are several clues that he's a little bit more casual about that election stuff:

He's not actually campaigning. NBC News' First Read noticed last week that after Cain's victory in the Florida straw poll last month, instead trying to capitalize on "the best week of his campaign," Cain was M.I.A. from the early voting states. He's not going back to Iowa until November 19. A "GOP insider" tells The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin "Cain is blowing it." His neglect of Iowa is "mind-blowing," his trip to New York to see Donald Trump a "shocking display of indifference to a state that could launch him."

He's on book tour. First Read follows up that Cain's book tour will take him through Florida, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina. "There's always been this little secret in American politics: You can make money running for president. After all, just look at Mike Huckabee's success after '08. But this cycle, a couple of Republican presidential candidates aren't even keeping this a secret." His book, published Tuesday, has already hit the top 10 on Amazon.com.
He hasn't bothered to think about the consequences of his policies. Cain told the Journal, "I am the only non-politician in the group and I talk very plainly and very clearly about what I'd do about the economy, what I would do about energy ... I am very specific about my plans. And that's what people are responding to." And though Cain is specific in his economic proposal, he's a little fuzzy on what happens after it's hypothetically implemented -- a sign he doesn't actually think it will be. When the Journal asked Cain about his "9-9-9 plan," which would wipe out the current tax code and replace it with a 9 percent tax on income, corporate income, and sales, Cain says people should do the math. But he does not want to talk about the math.
Cain: Before people start saying, 'It's going to be regressive on the poor." No it's not! Sit down and do the calculation.
Murray: Well, okay, let's do the calculation. I mean if you aren't working, you have no income, right now you pay no tax. Under your plan, you'd immediately go to 9 percent.
Cain: My objective is to grow the economy so they will be working.
Murray: I'm sorry, you raised the regressive issue. I'm saying for people at the bottom, who don't have jobs, have no income -- their tax rate is going to go from zero to 9 percent.
Cain: Alan, if they're not working, they've got a bigger problem than paying the tax on the national sales tax.
He doesn't know what he's talking about on foreign policy. Cain has made a series of flubs on foreign policy questions during his presidential campaign. Cain told Saulny he'll have advisers to help him figure out that stuff: "I think a president should be briefed on classified intelligence about America’s relationships before offering opinions." But several of the mistakes have been embarrassing. In May, Fox's Chris Wallace asked Cain about Palestinian right of return. Cain had no idea what Wallace was talking about. Last week, Cain praised the killing of American citizen and al Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, despite saying he'd opposed such a thing in early May. Oddly, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf points out, when he interviewed Cain about executing Americans in late May, Cain acted like he'd never heard of Awlaki. "Obviously the man was conducting a lot of conversations with reporters during that month," Friedersdrof writes."But it seems odd to react with such surprise to a matter of such importance when you've in fact been questioned about it before!" But hey, now Cain can legitimately say he's forgotten more things about foreign policy than some people will ever know.
And sometimes he forgets his own positions. Check out the transcript of his response in the Tea Party debate to a question about how he would keep the cost of health care down.
CAIN: First, repeal Obamacare in its entirety. 
CAIN: Secondly, pass market-driven, patient-centered reforms such as, under the current code, deductibility of health insurance premiums regardless of who pays for it. But as you know, I want to throw that out and put in my 999 plan.
Oops! Cain continued, "Secondly, the other thing that we can do in order to help bring down the costs is pass loser pay laws.... Secondly, restructure Medicare, another big cost that's passed on to us as consumers related to all the bureaucracy associated with that."
It seems more likely that Republican voters are responding to their their hatred of Romney than to Cain himself. Maybe he knows that -- and is banking on them buying his book even after someone else (maybe Romney) locks up the Republican nomination.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.