If it seems like a contradiction in terms, it is. Herman Cain is surely the most outlandish idea for a Republican front-runner yet. He's never been elected to anything; his sole claim to fame was as the CEO of a mediocre pizza chain; his idea of a great Supreme Court justice (as he told David Gregory on Meet the Press this week) is Clarence Thomas; and his natural constituency is about as broad as Thomas's-the 5-10% of African-Americans (some 12% of the voting-eligible population) who like policies that are clearly directed against the interests of their own minority, and the people who think that our biggest problem is that we don't have a black President sufficiently willing to help the moneyed elite.
This blog will be coming up to its 666th post shortly; we will devote it to a review of the Republican field: the Devils we know, the ones we don't, and the other candidates for Antichrist; Cain's "9-9-9" will certainly figure into that discussion.
All I have to say right now is that Cain's ascendancy is a dream come true for Mitt Romney's candidacy. The one thing that would stop Romney is someone uniting the stop-Romney factions of libertarians, right-wing paranoids, and evangelicals (now broadly referred to now as the Tea Party faction of the party), currently split among the likes of Cain, Bachmann, Perry, Paul, and Santorum. If someone from that wing could emerge from the pack and pull together the various anti-Romney forces, he/she could pose a serious threat to what seems otherwise the most likely scenario: Romney's likely steady march through the primaries, competing and scoring respectably in all of them, drawing most of the support of the major party leaders, and winning big where the primary vote does not swing to the extreme right.
I absolutely cannot imagine those forces rallying around Cain. For one thing, if he somehow won the nomination, it would almost certainly provoke a split among the Republicans, ensuring their defeat, and even if it didn't, he'd get wiped out by Obama in a two-way race. I think Cain's best-case result is to win a couple of primaries, show up for a few more, and be in a position to take the second spot in the ticket if he throws his support to one of the other would-be Romney-stoppers. Even that seems unlikely: Cain's ego seems too big to accept the #2 spot, and I can't imagine any nominee, from any shade of the red spectrum, choosing anyone other than Marco Rubio as running mate (Florida being what it is, a huge swing state).
Unlike Perry, Bachmann, or even Romney, Cain communicates well, with forceful convictions, plentiful sound bites and ready formulaic answers, and with only occasional major gaffes. So it may not be easy to put his candidacy down, but it will assuredly happen--I'm guessing because he won't get the backing of the big money backers when the campaign shifts from retail politicking to expensive regional and national television.
In the debates, Bachmann, Perry, & Co. have a difficult task, as they must seek to undercut Cain's support but should avoid giving him the prestige of being the most prominent target. Attack on him for lack of public sector experience probably isn't going to work among this crowd. I would say Perry would have the best chance by showing how he's been able to manipulate Texas' legislature into giving him what he wants, and by having some semblance of a coherent national domestic and foreign policy. That's probably giving him too much credit, but surely his big bucks can get him some quality political advice, even if the Bushes and Roves of the party have turned him out. Much as I despise and fear Perry, I'm rooting for him to rebound and overtake Cain, as the best hope to stop Romney, whom I see as the only Republican candidate with a decent chance of beating Obama.