Keep an eye on Cain, but don’t bet on him
It’s all about the 9-9-9.
And 9-9-9 translates into the latest political wonder man, Herman Cain. But he’s your non-Fred Thompson political wonder man. Herman Cain is not exactly Mr. Law & Order. In fact, he’s the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. And that is precisely and ironically why Herman Cain is so entertaining to watch.
To be fair, the GOP nomination process has become a fast form of entertainment in and of itself. Think about it: The debates have about the regularity of a TV series and you have a regular cast of characters. The variable in the series is the lead character. He shifts. It’s Romney to Perry to Romney to Cain. Romney is the steady, and most relied upon lead, it’s true. But, now enter Herman Cain…
And, so, the flavor of the month has taken off. Note the Oct. 10 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll that found Cain leading Romney by four percentage points (27 percent to 23 percent). Two days later, a Rassmussen Report poll showed Cain and Romney tied at 29 percent. Somehow between the Sept. 22 GOP debate and winning the Sept. 23 Florida straw poll, the man from nowhere became the man going somewhere.
How did this happen? Herman Cain told reporters in New Hampshire the other week that it’s message, not money. Well to that point, Cain has successfully voiced one message and one message fully: 9-9-9.
Let’s chat about this 9-9-9 plan. Essentially it’s a valiant effort to scrap the existing federal tax structure, entirely, to include the elimination of the Social Security tax, the estate tax, and the capitol gains tax. The 9-9-9 would mandate three things:
- a 9 percent flat individual income tax rate.
- a 9 percent flat corporate income tax rate.
- a 9 percent national sales tax.
Now, quite frankly, I don’t understand the beauty of the 9-9-9 plan. I’ve worked it over and if you are a small business – or any business – it’s a triple tax on your income. Not ideal. If you are a low- or middle-income family, in many cases you are going to pay more under the 9-9-9. Finally, regarding the national sales tax, let’s not forget the fact that you still have local and state taxes to contend with (in most states).
The math here is simple: A 9 percent national sales tax plus state and local levies equals a tax on goods of 17 percent or more. Again, not ideal. Of course, as a fiscal conservative I fully understand that the tax structure is in dire need of restructuring, but I’m not so sure Cain’s messaging on this point – his one point – sustains him.
Maybe VP, maybe Mr. Secretary
Switching from the policy to the political, I would posit that the critical point for Herman Cain is going to be Iowa. In less than three months, on Jan. 3, the Iowa caucus takes place. Cain stands a chance here if he can capture the social conservative vote, for which he, Bachmann, Perry and Santorum are all competing. If Cain can edge out the others here, then he might just be able to pick up traction. However, in this day and age, I am not sure you can get there with a staff of 35, one fledgling idea, and such a money disadvantage. Others might argue with this point, as pointed out in a Washington Post article over the weekend:
“If Facebook could be used to topple the Egyptian government, then perhaps Herman Cain can use it to win Iowa,” said Phil Musser, a Republican strategist who most recently worked for the short-lived presidential bid of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. “Thus far, the traditional approach to running for president in 2012 has paid few dividends, and the old must-dos have proven to be less important milestones than expected.”
Truth be told, I don’t think Cain can clinch the nomination with 9-9-9. Because, ultimately, I think money and the machine matter in politics in addition to the message. So, while I’d place my bet on Romney (and, yes, I worked on his book), I don’t disagree that Cain is certainly someone to watch.
Mark McKinnon, one of my favorites for the last 11 years, had this to say about Herman Cain in The Daily Beast:
“Herman Cain is going to be around for a while, and people should start taking him seriously. If he’s not president, he could be vice president. Or bet the under and just start calling him Mr. Secretary.”
That’s fine. I could live with a Secretary Cain.
Sarah Lenti is the blogger behind NMPolitics.net’s The Savvy. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For full disclosure, Lenti is a Republican strategist who worked closely with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s former PAC and on Romney’s book.