Romney Must Fall Asleep Wondering, Why Can't I Shake Herman Cain?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If you understand why the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States is going the way it is, please clue me in.

How did we get to where we are today, with the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, he who holds two advanced degrees from Harvard, running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls with Herman Cain, a motivational speaker who's never held public office?

Is Romney such a weak candidate or Cain such a strong one?

If we could make a transcript of Romney's thought bubbles, they might sound something like Jon Lovitz, playing Mike Dukakis in that old Saturday Night Live skit, as he pauses in debate with Dana Carvey's loquacious-but-incomprehensible George H.W. Bush to marvel to himself:

"I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."

The New York Times published a great article on Cain this past Sunday, ("Cain, Now Running as Outsider, Came to Washington as Lobbyist," 10/23/11), exploring his success as chief executive of the National Restaurant Association (1996-99).

The former CEO of the Godfather's Pizza chain, Cain basically took "a once-sleepy trade group" and turned it into a "lobbying powerhouse," the Times said.

Give Cain credit. He had a plan to take Washington by storm as the tribune of the restaurant industry and executed it to a fare-thee-well. And all the while he was plotting an even bigger move, into politics.

As Boston's Tom Kershaw, who owns the bar on which the TV sitcom Cheers was based, said to the New York Times, "I think what was enticing to him (Cain) was coming to Washington and getting into the middle of the whole political arena. I think he had his eye on politics."

Though he was contemplating in the late-1990s a run for high office, the ultra-confident Cain did not hesitate to take positions that might later put him in an uncomfortable position with the public and the media. He allied the National Restaurant Association, for example, with the alcohol and tobacco industries in opposing tighter blood-alcohol limits on drivers and higher taxes on cigarettes.

"The restaurant industry literally became the alter ego of the tobacco industry during that period of time," Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Times.

If Cain wins the nomination, there will be ironies aplenty to plague the mind of Mitt, who bucked members of his own party back in 2004 and signed into law a bill banning smoking in the workplace. Some Republicans argued that the bill was an infringement on personal freedoms and would devastate the restaurant industry in Massachusetts, but Romney signed it because he believed in protecting the health of those who have to earn their livings in restaurants and bars. Breathing second-hand smoke should not be a job requirement for anyone, he declared.

Hard to believe, but I guess Cain could actually get the nomination in this strange political season, a time of wild gyrations in the nation's troubled soul.

"Bearing is fate," the Romans said, and Herman Cain has the bearing of a leader. His oratorical skills make the rest of the field look like rookies at Toastmasters. His confidence and conviction are dazzling.

If the Republicans do nominate Cain, I hope they'll double-down on the bet by choosing Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, as the nominee for vice president, thus producing the first all-ex-lobbyist national ticket.

As Jon Lovitz might then say, "Herman Cain, Haley Barbour. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

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