Observation 7: Based on the above observations, it seems likely that at least one GOP candidate now considered an also-ran will emerge as a significant force in the nomination battle, when voters take over the process and the polls fade into insignificance.
Prediction: That candidate will be Herman Cain.
This is not to say Cain will get the nomination. But it posits that he will get a significant—and surprising—number of votes and become a politician to be reckoned with during the caucus and primary contests. This prediction may seem particularly outlandish given that Cain has no political experience of any consequence. And yet when in recent memory has America’s political class been held in such opprobrium as it is today? Are we to believe that in the era of the Tea Party, that force of conservative populism that has attached itself to the Republican Party, GOP voters are going to vote for conventional politicians in the conventional way?
Not likely. More likely the will look for something new and fresh. Consider Cain’s so-called 9-9-9 economic plan (flat tax rates of 9 percent for personal income, corporate earnings and the sale of goods) with Romney’s 59-point program. Without getting into all the details, it can be said that Cain’s plan is simple, bold, understandable and relevant to what most people consider a serious underlying problem of the country’s governance (a tax regimen that is too complex, too burdensome and too inviting for connected people to game the system). Hence, it serves as at least a starting point for serious action. Romney’s plan, by contrast, seems designed to split the difference in multiple ways, to glide through the thickets of American politics while avoiding as much controversy as possible. If there is a modest degree of political cynicism in that, it’s of a degree that is not uncommon in the country’s politics. The problem is that this is a time when even that degree of political finesse may not be acceptable to many voters.
There are signs that some media outlets are beginning to notice that Cain seems to be resonating with Americans. When he won the recent Florida straw poll, the Washington Post responded with a meager story on page A6. But a couple days later the paper recouped with a longer analysis under the headline, “Cain: The GOP’s next big thing?’’ Yesterday the paper devoted significant space to an exploration of his 9-9-9 plan. And the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger recently hailed Cain in his weekly column as a man who “deserves a serious look.’’
If he gets a serious look, it won’t be through the pundits of Washington—or even the polls, which don’t tell us much at this stage. It will be because the voters, when they finally focus on the election and cast their ballots, will make it happen. Next year just may be the kind of year in which such a development could actually occur.
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy.