Friday, November 11, 2011

Who will benefit from Cain collapse?

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign will likely collapse soon under the accumulated weight of sexual harassment charges, ill-advised remarks, and a lack of foreign policy experience. As the current favorite of the “anyone-but-Romney” wing of the Republican Party, the Georgia businessman’s decline will leave many voters up for grabs. The question is who is most likely to benefit from Cain’s misfortune.

Cain captured frontrunner status from Rick Perry after Perry’s lackluster performance in several debates. By now, it is becoming more and more apparent that Perry would not be a formidable opponent to President Obama in the general election. This realization is seen in the Real Clear Politics average of polls which showed Perry’s support plunge to ten percent from a high of 31 percent in September. Perry’s introduction of an optional flat tax plan has not stopped his slide in the polls.

Mitt Romney is also unlikely to pick up Cain’s supporters. Romney’s support has remained in the 20-25 percent range for the entire race. A large segment of the Republican electorate seems uncomfortable with Romney’s tendency to change his mind on important issues and his background as the facilitator of healthcare reform in Massachusetts, which became a prototype of Obamacare and has led Massachusetts to become one of the most expensive states for healthcare in the nation.

Likewise, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Michelle Bachmann are unlikely to get a bounce from Cain’s fall. Ron Paul, the perennial candidate whose platform is far out of the Republican and American mainstream, has remained stuck in the eight percent range. Similarly, Huntsman would seem to be more at home in the Democratic or Libertarian parties. Bachmann, who had a worse case of foot-in-mouth disease than Cain, rose as high as 14 percent in July before plummeting bottom tier status in the race.

The only remaining options are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Of the two, Gingrich, another Georgian, has had much more traction than Santorum. He has shown himself to be very articulate and knowledgeable in the debates and is one of the few candidates who targeted President Obama’s policies more than those of his fellow Republicans.

In the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls, Gingrich has increased from a low of four percent in September. In the weeks since the Cain scandal became news, Gingrich has shown another surge to 12 percent. As the Cain campaign falters, Gingrich’s numbers will likely increase as he becomes the next “not-Romney.”

President Obama would benefit in some ways from Cain’s fall, but would be hurt in others. Obviously, the departure of the only black Republican candidate

would help Obama solidify the Democratic minority vote. A white challenger would be more vulnerable to the charges of racism that seemed transparent and contrived when leveled at Cain.

On the other hand, Cain is a weak candidate in many respects, despite his charm and charisma. His tendency to speak without thinking and his inexperience on foreign policy, as well as the sexual harassment claims, would undoubtedly be ruthlessly exploited by the Obama campaign. Current polls show that Obama fares better in a matchup with Cain than Romney.

The current state of the Republican race shows the application of the “Buckley Rule.” William F. Buckley famously advised voters that they should vote for the most conservative candidate who could win. All of the Republican candidates are more conservative, and therefore more desirable to Republicans, than President Obama. The question is which of them is most likely to be able to win the general election. That several candidates have been considered and then cast aside for someone else as their flaws are found is evidence that Republican voters are looking for a winner.

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