Why candidates run away
Posted: Monday, December 5, 2011 7:01 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — We’ve grown accustomed to politicians running for president and turning the experience into a springboard for another more profitable career. Sarah Palin is an extreme example, having converted her spot on a losing presidential ticket into a lucrative cottage industry as a television personality, sought-after speaker and political kingmaker for the GOP.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also scored in the last presidential cycle, landing a Fox News gig and making enough money to convince him to leave politics and not compete in this year’s primaries even though he was an early favorite to win the Iowa caucuses.
These success stories may have had a role in swelling the Republican field for 2012 with candidates who seemed more interested in where the media exposure might lead than in doing the serious organizing it takes to build a presidential level campaign. Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and even Newt Gingrich appeared more like niche candidates, selling a book or seeking relevance for outside business ventures, than potential nominees for their party.
As we now are seeing in real time with Cain, the far more common experience of a presidential candidate is ego-deflating loss, sometimes on such a grand scale that it can be more of a dead end than a career builder. Astronaut John Glenn serves as a cautionary tale. The first American to orbit the earth, he returned to a hero’s welcome in 1962, became a confidante of the Kennedy family, a U.S. senator and finally in 1984 a presidential candidate.
He entered the race as a prohibitive favorite, but early stumbles and a boy scout’s naïveté about politics quickly brought him down to the point where he publicly lamented about once having been a national hero and now, his hero’s mantle tarnished, he was out of the race and $3 million in debt.
The primary reason for the dizzying fall that presidential candidates experience is the fact that all human beings are imperfect, and those imperfections are put on public display and exaggerated in the course of a campaign. Everything becomes a character test, and not everybody gets a passing grade. How a candidate handles the deconstruction of his or her very being is what the media and the voters are examining.
Cain’s lawyer issued a statement that says relationships of a personal and consensual nature should not be within the field of inquiry for the media. He’s right, but that’s not the world we live in. The latest woman to make accusations of Cain said she didn’t want to come forward, but that her identity had been leaked to the media, and she had no choice. Cain denied her revelation of a 13-year affair, but it’s hard now for voters to keep track of all the women, and all the denials, and still regard Cain as a viable candidate.
Cain said he is “reassessing” his campaign in light of the damage that’s been done, but there’s no groundswell from his party or from the voters demanding he stay in the race and fight it out. If he were a more credible candidate in all the ways that matter, from his grasp of domestic policy to his knowledge of foreign affairs, perhaps the verdict would be different
His candidacy is so flawed that it shouldn’t take sexual indiscretions and charges of harassment to end his presidential run. There are so many other reasons to discount Cain as a potential Republican nominee that the focus on his private life sends the wrong message. We have had many exemplary leaders with less than exemplary records as faithful husbands, from FDR to Eisenhower, Kennedy and Clinton. Cain doesn’t belong in their company. Published in The Messenger 12.5.11