Political pundits this week have been somewhat confused about Herman Cain’s rise in the polls after Rick Perry’s star has fallen following his poor showing in the Republican debates. However, I think this shift in the polls has significant meaning and is easily discernible.
Mitt Romney – the Republican John Kerry
Although they differ in values, these two politicians have four very important things in common:
They are wealthy
They are from the northeast
They are boring
They lack the ability to connect and seem less than authentic
From my perspective, these are the four horsemen of presidential campaign apocalypse. Wealthy, northeastern men do not play well in other areas of the country. They are perceived as snobby and coddled. Images of lounging in smoking jackets while wearing an ascot dance in people’s heads.
As I mentioned, in my previous article, Charisma v. Competence, Americans have a strong desire for a charismatic leader. A politician can be extremely intelligent and propose fantastic plans or solutions but, if he is boring, he can forget about becoming President.
Finally, you must be able to connect with people and they must feel they really know who you are as a candidate. If you have changed your position on many issues to fit the current climate, it can create significant problems. But, if you add to this a robotic manner and botched attempts to be viewed as genuine, it becomes a political deal breaker. Remember John Kerry’s artificially posed hunting pictures?
The “Not Mitt” Voters
Mitt Romney has remained very stable in all the Republican primary polls. Why? In my view, it’s because only a certain segment of Republican voters are open to Mitt Romney. To some extent, his support is maxed out in the current mix of candidates. So, when Rick Perry has a poor debate performance, his supporters pick someone else, anyone other than Mitt.
The Appeal of Cain
Herman Cain is very charismatic. He is good at making jokes and delivering applause lines that appeal to conservative audiences. He also speaks with conviction when putting forward his 9/9/9 plan (9% individual and corporate tax along with a 9% federal sales tax).
Unfortunately, his plan would be problematic in several respects. First and foremost, many of those with lower incomes would pay more total tax under this type of plan. Second, it isn’t clear how much federal revenue would be generated under this plan but it is likely to be much less than we have now. We already have huge deficit problems without taking in less revenue. Third and finally, any substantial federal sales tax could have very negative economic effects. Anything that slows consumer spending would be disastrous as we try to claw our way out from recession.
However, Republican primary voters aren’t thinking about any of these concerns and no one is discussing the potential impact of his proposal. He is straightforward and likable. This is all it takes to get some temporary interest.
A Message to Rick Perry
I believe the shift in support to Herman Cain is a warning message to Rick Perry that he needs to improve his debate skills. If he does, these shifters will come running right back to his camp.
2008 Changed Everything
The 2008 election changed politics forever. The Obama campaign set new benchmarks for inspiration and enthusiasm. We will never again elect a staid, boring, Gerald Ford-esque candidate for President. We will never settle for someone simply reading a well-prepared speech. We now expect a dynamic candidate.
This is why I don’t believe Mitt Romney is the threat that some people fear he might be. I can’t imagine a high level of excitement or enthusiasm about his candidacy. It seems that he may end up being the candidate the party “settles for”. This is a recipe for diminished Republican voter turnout. Only those who strongly dislike the President will be certain to vote.
Enthusiasm is Everything in 2012
Enthusiasm is the key in 2012. President Obama knows this and is in full campaign mode now. Unfortunately, although they like the President in candidate mode, some liberals feel sour because the reality of the first term in office did not match the climate of the 2008 campaign. So, energizing the base again could prove to be tricky.
The Obama campaign team should be celebrating this week since Governor Chris Christie stated clearly that he will not run in 2012. I believe he was the only Republican who had the potential to generate the enthusiasm necessary to compete and win a general election.
Rick Perry is the dark horse now. Most people have written him off. But I hope the Obama team is keeping an eye on him. If he can improve in the debates, he can regain the lead for the nomination. He can also generate voter enthusiasm as evidenced by how quickly he rocketed to the top of the polls after entering the race. I’m not sure he has enough mojo to win a general election but I am worried that he could pull the same block of voters as George W. Bush. That might be a recipe for trouble or at least make things too close for comfort.
Given the current field of Republican contenders, if the President can continue to generate supporter enthusiasm and energize the base, I think we’ll see a second Obama term.