There was something opportunistic about the Herman Cain presidential campaign from the get-go. No state campaign organizations, lots of emphasis on selling his recently released book, and issue positions which seemed to be made-up on the spot to entertain an audience. It worked for a while. It took him to the top of the polls in a number of states about a month ago in a surge generated by strong debate performances, but it couldn’t last and maybe it was never intended to.
Most of us who were waiting for a crash to follow his surge expected it to be on the basis of the illogic of his 9-9-9 plan which would have raised taxes on 80% of the population and subjected many in the middle class to forms of taxation from which they had previously been exempt. Once the novelty wore off it was clear that it was a recipe for disaster if it faced any serious examination.
Most probably didn’t anticipate the flurry of “bimbo erruptions” which filled the past month, a bulging handful of shaky accusations of sexual harassment and finally a full-fledged mistress with phone records and bank deposits which were hard to dismiss. It all raised the question once again of the seriousness of Cain’s campaign, because he is clearly no fool and has to have gone into this endeavor knowing that there was a strict time limit on his viability and a certainty that his rise to prominence would drag the skeletons of his past to the surface.
As he suspends his campaign we end with a sad commentary on the Republican Party which is so eager for someone to dislodge the mendacious mediocrities of the party establishment like Romney and Gingrich that they will turn to any charlatan with a good patter and the right brand of snake-oil in his hand.
With Cain proving to be just as corrupt in his own way as Perry and Gingrich and Romney, perhaps it’s time for the GOP constituency to try something different – a candidate with integrity. At the rate things are going they may be forced to this appealing last resort because the field of grifters and yes-men is narrowing and that leaves room for candidates with some integrity.
I’m not talking about Bachmann or Santorum here. I’ll grant they have a certain sort of fanatical integrity, but crazy trumps integrity every time and explains why they’re stuck in single digits and are never going to get out of them.
What the grassroots members who make up the backbone of the Republican Party are desperate for is a candidate with qualities which make them exceptional. Not exceptionally good at pandering and exceptionally good looking, but exceptional in the quality of their ideas and their character.
The irony of the race thus far is that they have had candidates of exceptional quality available to them all along and they have let the media minimize them and the party leadership marginalize them and they’ve gone for the flashier but far less substantial candidates who have let them down time and again as Perry and Cain have and as Gingrich and Romney are sure to do.
The three candidates who stand out as truly worthy of the support which Republican voters are Ron Paul, John Huntsman and Gary Johnson. They represent the highest ideals of the Republican Party, have histories of personal integrity and they have actual ideas which might solve the nations problems and put us back on the path to prosperity. They’re also far more likely to beat Obama in November than most of the other candidates if they’re given that chance.
Ron Paul stands out for having the strongest combination of integrity and proven ability to pull votes. Paul is already polling in the top three in almost every poll and has a powerful base of support which isn’t going to break and run and could easily push him over the top. Herman Cain supporters are already flocking to Paul, realizing that he’s the genuine version of what Cain was peddling in a watered down form.. Paul offers real reform, real fiscal conservatism and a record which suggests an absolute unwillingness to compromise with the leaders of both parties who have led us so far astray. His personal social conservatism gives him an edge in the primary and his libertarian principles could win over independents in the general election.
Jon Huntsman has a proven track record as a governor, an appealing personal charisma and a combination of fiscal conservatism and moderation on social issues which would win key independents and crossover Democrats in droves. He also has more personal money to throw into the campaign than most of the other candidates. Huntsman has some libertarian ideas and some original ideas and a streak of integrity a mile wide. His absolute refusal to pander to the religious right is endearing. He won’t go on Huckabee, he won’t have anything to do with events sponsored by the religious fringe and he won’t even campaign in Iowa with the compromises that seems to entail. And much to everyone’s surprise, before Cain had even bowed out, he hit 11% in the latest poll in New Hampsire, suggesting that he’s a real contender.
Of course, the best of the neglected candidates waiting in the wings is former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. He has an outstanding record in office and some of the best ideas, including being the only advocate for the FairTax. He’s also been the whipping boy for the media and the party establishment. He’s been overlooked and excluded from debates and press coverage and left out of the polls, and he’s sufficiently disgruntled he’s even considered jumping ship to the Libertarian party. But despite all that he’s still in the race and if Cain’s departure opens a spot in the primary field then Johnson is the one who ought to be brought in to fill it. There’s no one more deserving and no one who could do more with another opportunity.
While the partisan press continues to prattle on about Romney and Gingrich, two candidates who no one really wants, one a replay of 2008 and the other a replay of 1994, there’s a real field of candidates out there that Republicans could truly be proud of. After all the disappointments and missteps of party leaders, a primary field led by Paul, Huntsman and Johnson might restore confidence in a party which is on the brink of failure and has broken faith with its own base too many times.
My Republican Party isn’t represented by the Newts and Mitts of the world. It’s not a party of tired old hacks and used care salesman smiles. It’s a party of smart ideas and responsible government and refreshing honesty. It’s a party which can celebrate candidates like Paul, Huntsman and Johnson, embrace them and let them show us what a real election with serious candidates can be like. They are the tonic for the disease which grips the party. They are the serious contenders to counter the damage done by flirtation with faux candidates like Cain.
Abraham Lincoln won the Republican Party its first national victory with a “team of rivals” bringing the best his party had to offer to Washington. Paul, Huntsman and Johnson could be that winning team for a new era of Republican politics if we can discard the baggage of our old mistakes and believe in the brighter future which they represent.
This article appeared in slightly different form in Blogcritics Magazine.