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The next GOP rise-and-fall story

The next GOP rise-and-fall story

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011 7:03 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — There is no question that Herman Cain is a far more credible candidate today than he was even two weeks ago. Part of his rise in the polls is the result of what could be called the Great Perry Collapse. Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race in the fall, quickly claiming frontrunner status and then losing it after a trio of poor debate performances.
Conservative voters, withholding their support from Mitt Romney, switched their allegiance from Perry to Cain. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, a dynamic speaker and creative marketer, won them over with his catchy 9-9-9 economic plan. To the extent that Cain’s ascension in the polls is the product of his radical proposal, he will now have to defend it, and judging from Tuesday night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, it will not be easy, especially since it takes a page from the combination of income and sales taxes common in Europe.
Cain’s plan calls for a dramatic lowering of corporate and income tax rates to 9 percent together with a new national sales tax of 9 percent. On the face of it, that would be a huge shift in wealth from the middle-income and poor to the rich. Bloomberg News, which sponsored the New Hampshire debate, ran the numbers and confronted Cain with the conclusion that his plan would bring in far less revenue to the federal Treasury.
Cain claimed the numbers were wrong, explaining that the plan has to be dramatically scored to understand how it works. Pressed for the name of the economist who had helped craft the plan, Cain named Rich Lowrie, a wealth manager for a division of Wells Fargo in Cleveland who has a degree in accounting and is not a trained economist.
Cain likes to boast that his biggest applause line when he’s campaigning is his declaration that he has never served in elective office. He holds up his lack of experience in politics and Washington as a badge of honor. He’s proud that his economic plan can be explained in a bumper sticker, challenging Romney to name all 59 points in his 160-page economic plan, as though complexity in a country of more than 300 million people is the enemy.
Romney kept his cool, diplomatically explaining that the simplest solution, while always helpful, is not necessarily the best one. Cain is a useful foil for Romney, a friendly adversary, and Romney wants to keep it that way. Cain doesn’t have presidential-level staffing or funding, and the assumption is that he will be a short-lived phenomenon. The irony is that the catchy plan that helped him rocket to second in the polls to Romney is likely to take him down. With political stardom comes scrutiny, and Cain’s plan is not workable or defensible. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the most vocal in challenging Cain. Santorum asked the studio audience in New Hampshire how many would support a nine percent national sales tax. The answer, not surprisingly, was no one.
As a former member of Congress, Santorum also pointed out that a 9 percent sales tax would be a non-starter on Capitol Hill.
It is beginning to dawn on Republicans that Romney is their best bet to defeat President Obama. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement of Romney this week should help conservatives coalesce around the former Massachusetts governor. Romney has done remarkably well skirting far right Tea Party positions that he would likely regret if he becomes the nominee.
While Cain openly acknowledges that he needs to bone up on foreign policy, Romney delivered a speech at The Citadel in South Carolina outlining his views. He is so far ahead in his evolution as a presidential candidate that Cain and the others have become little more than comic relief. Published in The Messenger 10.17.11

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