Why you should care
Because Cain paved the way for Trump … and went down for far less.
Herman Cain may well have been John the Baptist for Donald Trump, particularly in the brief shining moment in the fall of 2011 when Cain took American politics by storm. He was a political neophyte running for president on a corporate executive background — CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, available in a gas station near you — and a catchy slogan: “9-9-9.” Doubling as a policy pledge about reforming the tax code, “9-9-9” was more “Build the Wall” than “Make America Great Again.”
At the same time, Cain was proudly ignorant of policy minutiae. “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’” he once asked an interviewer.
What I most remember about covering the Cain Train was how ill-prepared it was for his sudden rise to the top of the polls, which came as Republicans played the field with a series of candidates before settling on the boy next door: Mitt Romney. A diner stop in Michigan was completely overwhelmed with curious voters and press, and you couldn’t even hear the candidate. Then there was the media tornado that touched down after Politico unearthed how the National Restaurant Association had paid settlements to women who had accused Cain of sexual harassment. The day after the news broke, swarmed by reporters as he made the rounds in D.C., Cain called the story — you guessed it — a “witch hunt.”
In a land of binary choices, voters will forgive plenty.
A month later he was out of the race, after a woman accused him of a years-long affair. Now, Trump wants Cain to serve on the Federal Reserve Board to help oversee America’s monetary policy. “A terrific person. He’s a friend of mine,” Trump said this week of Cain, who chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in the 1990s. The reason is mostly that Cain, like Fed board nominee Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation, has been a strenuous critic of Federal Reserve policy. Trump is openly critical of Fed Chair Jerome Powell for raising interest rates, which the president believes is keeping an unnecessary damper on the economy as he heads into reelection.
Aside from skepticism about his résumé and whether the Fed can retain its political independence, Cain’s nomination will raise yet another fierce debate about sexism.
On the #MeToo scale, the accusations against Trump (from his ugly talk on the Access Hollywood tape to multiple allegations of sexual assault) are far more severe than Cain’s, which are worse than Joe Biden’s, as the former vice president’s proto-presidential campaign was rocked this week with a series of stories about women feeling uncomfortable with his touchy-feely style.
In a video released Wednesday, Biden said “social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it.” Trump responded by tweeting a doctored version of the video, in which a duplicate Biden emerges to rub the original Biden’s shoulders and smell his hair.
So how does President “grab ’em by the … ” get away with it? Simple: In a land of binary choices, voters will forgive plenty. In addition to the fact that liberals have led the #MeToo reckoning, Democrats will have about 20 options in their primary for president, and Biden already had some generational baggage. Women being made uncomfortable, even if Biden’s own intentions were innocent, affirms an existing problem.
But if this were Biden vs. Trump in the general election, Democratic partisans would have no problem pulling the lever for Joe, just as Republicans came home to Trump after the Access Hollywood tape dropped. Ditto for Cain: There were plenty of Republicans without his baggage to choose from heading into 2012. So why take a risk with a guy with a woman problem and who appeared to know little about the war in Libya?
Cain closed his campaign dropout speech in December 2011 with a quote he often used on the trail: “Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me. Just look inside and you will find just what you can do.”
Perhaps Biden too can take solace in those song lyrics from the film Pokemon 2000.