Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don’t dismiss Herman Cain

Herman Cain seems an unlikely candidate for president if for no other reason than that he has never held political office, not even an appointed political position even at the local level.  Unlike the only three presidents who have taken office without political experience—Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower—Cain has had no high-level military experience.  In the history of the country, only one person has been nominated as a major-party presidential candidate who did not have some political or high-level military experience.  That was Wendell Wilkie, a corporate lawyer, who ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.  Wilkie lost in a landslide.

So, why do I say not to dismiss Cain.  One word—charisma.  I’m not fond of Cain and I certainly don’t like most of his ideas, particularly his stupid 9-9-9 economic plan.  That said, he has demonstrated that he can handle himself in debates, on the stump, and in media interviews.  You got to admit anyone who can get away with making an argument by beginning with “I don’t have any facts to back this up but….” is slick.  Cain’s jump in the Republican polls isn’t just a result of Perry’s lackluster performance in the debates, although that certainly helped a lot.  When the right wing nuts see and hear Cain, they love what they see and hear, particularly since they are not at all fond of Romney and desperately want an alternative.  They see as a plus fact that Cain doesn’t have political experience.  If Perry doesn’t find a way to stop his hemorrhaging in the polls, then Cain may become the default Romney challenger.  And, if Cain can pick up some of the “anyone but Romney” money that has been flowing to the other candidates such as Perry, then Cain might have a real shot at winning the nomination.

Wouldn’t Cain be easier for Obama to beat than Romney?  Not necessarily. 

Right now Obama doesn’t look good in the polls.  However, one of the most reliable presidential election forecasting models—The Keys to the White House—favors his re-election.    The model is based upon thirteen keys—threshold conditions that favor the re-election of the party holding the White House.  The keys are presented as statements that are evaluated as True or False.  When five or fewer keys are false, the incumbent party wins; when any six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
See this link for a list of the keys and how the model works.

Right now, only three of the thirteen keys are false.  That gives Obama a good chance of winning.  However, that could change.

One of the keys that is currently False has to do with the short-term economy: “The economy is NOT in a recession during the election campaign.”  As I said, that key right now is False.  However, there is a good chance we might be headed into a new recession and Republicans have been trying to avoid doing anything that might prevent a new recession like Obama’s Jobs Act.  If the economy goes into a recession between now and the election, then the short-term economy key flips from False to True and Obama ends up with four False scores.

Another key that is currently in Obama’s favor has to do with social unrest—There is NO sustained social unrest during the incumbents term.  Right now that is True.  However, if the Occupy movement continues to grow, particularly if it turns violent in places, then the social unrest key could turn against Obama.  He would then have five FALSE keys, the most the model allows if he is to be re-elected.

Now, it is unlikely that any of the other keys will turn against Obama.  For example, there is little chance that he will face a serious challenge for the nomination in the Democratic Party.  So, he is safe on that key.  That’s true of all of the remaining keys, except one—the Challenger Charisma key which says “the challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.”

If Romney gets the Republican nomination, then Obama is safe on the Challenger Charisma key.  Romney is not a national hero and no one would call him the least charismatic.  So, if Romney is the nominee, Obama is safe on the Charisma key and, provided the model is right, wins, if only by the slimmest margin.  That is true even in a recession and even with social unrest.

However, if Cain is the nominee then all bets may be off.  Many Republicans, particularly those on the extreme Right, already see Cain as a Charismatic figure.  If independents and some centrist Democrats begin to be infected with Cain’s charm sufficiently to see him as charismatic, then Cain could flip the final key.  Obama would lose.

As I said, don’t write Cain off.  He could be very dangerous.

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