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Why Herman Cain is Destroying the GOP

Herman Cain's so-called 9-9-9 tax plan was the propellant that shot off his unexpected and meteoric rise to the top of the GOP polls. Most reasonable estimates find that the 9-9-9, which aims to replace the current federal tax code with a flat 9% income, corporate, and sales tax, is a highly regressive plan that will shrink federal revenues dramatically. Cain's approach, as is many Republicans', is simply to slash and burn. 

The GOP has of course been in favor of dramatically shrinking the federal government for years, but candidates like Cain take it to a whole new level. For example, a recent PolicyMic article detailed the myriad ways in which the GOP is swinging right. Cain is at the forefront of this shift and the radical fringe is tearing the Republicans apart. Republicans like Cain are scaring off every candidate with mainstream appeal other than former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Instead of being able to choose from a field of qualified and respectable candidates, it will come down to a choice between the extreme right and him.

The Tea Party's rise has inherent contradictions. Right-wing politicians in America have traditionally had to rely on populism to build alliances with lower- and middle-class voters. One of 2004's campaign highlights was former President George W. Bush as “the guy you'd like to have a beer with.” Try reconciling this need for the GOP to appeal to everyday Americans with Cain's recent comments on the poor. His radical statements are likely to help disenfranchise the struggling middle class from the Republican brand.

In this economic climate, to most voters “if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself,” as Cain said, sounds more like “I’m already rich — so why should I care?” 

Blame yourself, vote Cain!” will never be a rallying slogan.

It would be generous to say that Cain has little to no ability to avoid major gaffes. Aside from his recent comments on the poor, there are Cain’s implications that Democrats want to kill black babies, his admission that he did not understand what the Palestinian right of return is, or his ignorance of the status of Taiwan. Isolated gaffes are forgivable, but Cain is dangerously close to establishing a reputation as the “no facts to back this up” guy. If the GOP field wasn't so weak, Cain's bizarre media statements would have already knocked him out of the running.

Besides, for someone so focused on individualism, Cain's own business record is unspectacular at best; his real talent is in relentless self-promotion. Perhaps that is the reason he is taking time off at the most critical juncture of his campaign to promote his book. Pundits are already speculating whether Cain's real objective is hosting a show on Fox News. It is astounding that the GOP is allowing such a lack of party discipline to muddle their attempts to find a serious candidate.

Despite his good poll numbers, no one seems to expect much of Cain, whom a Washington Post columnist called “the Republican flavor of the month.” But Cain is just a symptom of the deep funk both parties are experiencing. He's symptomatic of a bigger problem on the right.

The GOP's unending procession of utterly homogenous Tea Party nominees is likely going to exhaust their base and force them to nominate "default" candidate Mitt Romney. Romney has perfectly serviceable charisma and in other times would be an ideal Republican nominee, but the party today has shifted right too quickly to coherently rally behind a moderate candidate. It is hard to imagine the GOP snapping into line behind Romney vehemently enough to triumph over an incumbent president. Texas Governor Rick Perry is more potent, but his battles with the other frontrunners are going to make it difficult for him or any other candidate to unify a constituency against Romney.

The last two candidates to topple a sitting president — Reagan and Clinton — profoundly energized their bases and ran with significant bipartisan appeal. For that to happen again, Republicans would need to present a candidate capable not only of repairing the deepening cracks between the Tea Party and conventional Republicans, but doing so in a way that appeals to independents and at least some Democrats.

Elections are always preceded by a series of first dates with candidates. Republicans are increasingly looking desperate to do anything that avoids settling on a boring and uninspiring (not to mention Mormon) Romney, but the Republican brand has become toxic for a large number of the GOP's most experienced and electable members. As a result, they are wildly going on a risky skein of blind dates, none of which (so far) have even come close to a second date, let alone a kiss.

The GOP has less and less of a chance, especially if the vacuous, loud, and hostile Cain types are the best alternatives they can find to running a conventional campaign.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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