Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flikr
In an incredible display of political indestructibility, Herman Cain appears to have escaped from his sexual harassment scandal almost completely unscathed.But what is surprising about Cain’s remarkable resilience is that anyone is surprised at all. The former pizza titan and his bizarre chief of staff have so far managed to defy all conventional wisdom and expectations about how to run a successful campaign.
Cain’s campaign has been picking up steam, even as the candidate came under sustained fire for allegedly sexually harassing at least four women in the 1990s. Since the scandal broke, his campaign has raised $1.2 million to fund field operations in Iowa, and just launched its first television ad in the first-in-nation caucus state. He remains neck-in-neck with Mitt Romney at the top of the Republican presidential field, and a recent Quinnipiac poll has Cain leading the Republican field in Florida and Ohio, two key swing states.
So what is it about Herman Cain that makes him political Teflon?
We’ve dissected Cain’s stump speech to find out how Cain combines genius marketing with an ‘everyman’ message and almost-messianic speaking style to bring down the house.
This sentiment is the cornerstone of virtually every speech Cain gives, and typically sets off a quasi-religious call-and-response from the crowd as Cain lists off the different crises that are plaguing the U.S. -- namely, an economic crisis, an entitlement spending crisis, an energy crisis, an illegal immigration crisis, a 'foggy foreign policy crisis,' a moral crisis, and -- the kicker -- a 'severe deficiency of leadership crisis.'
By engaging the audience to outline all of Republicans key concerns, Cain effectively makes the conservative platform his own platform. His actual policy proposals become totally secondary to the message, which is exactly what a conservative audience wants to hear.
National Federation of Republican Women conference, Oct. 1, 2011
Cain is not the only candidate to declare that Obama and progressive politics have killed the American Dream. But what sets Cain apart from his 2012 rivals is that his message is one of positive determination -- his ability to recapture the American Dream is backed up by the fact that he himself worked hard to achieve it.
Cain positions himself as the one leader who will take back the American Dream and reestablish American Exceptionalism for 'the people,' rather than for some outside/Establishment interest. In this way, his leadership mandate is not imposed upon conservatives, but bestowed by them -- a key distinction that accounts for Cain's indefatigable grassroots support.
Although some might regard it as a weakness, Cain's lack of political experience is actually one of his biggest selling points among a disillusioned and recession-weary electorate. His experience as the restaurant industry 'turnaround' man who saved Godfather's Pizza from bankruptcy is enough to convince conservatives that he knows first-hand how to 'fix stuff.'
With this simple message, Cain pinpoints a key conservative gripe -- that Washington never does anything -- and sets himself up as the man who can get in there and start turning things around, Establishment rules be damned.
You are endowed by your Creator with the unalienable right to protect yourself, to protect your family, to protect your property
The text of the Second Amendment says nothing about your family and property. But for conservatives the right to own a firearm is the right to protect what is yours when the government isn't there to protect you.
Cain is actually intensifying the the importance of the Second Amendment by surrounding it in the language of the Declaration of Independence. He's saying this isn't just a Constitutional right, it is a moral right granted by the Almighty. It's the modern equivalent of 'Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.'
For many conservatives, gun-rights aren't just a political liberty, but a cultural touchstone that connects us to our pioneering history and America's independent character.
Like other Tea Party figures, Cain's brand of conservative populism is rooted in fidelity to the Constitution and the original vision of the founding fathers. But where politicians like Michele Bachmann merely revere Jefferson and Adams, Cain does more than just pay lip service to the nation's founders. He positions himself and his supporters as their rightful heir, tasked with defending their original vision.
It's an empowering message that also has deep religious undertones -- Cain's rhetoric conveys the idea that he and his followers have been chosen by providence to protect and renew American greatness.
Cain's prescription to fixing our 'foggy foreign policy' is simple: 'Clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are, and stop giving money to our enemies.'
Conservatives hate the idea of American money going to fund regimes that dislike us. That's why so many conservative activists support divestment efforts, hoping to take their money out of the Middle East. They want the federal government to do the same.
The desire for clarity is nothing new on the right. Ronald Reagan's 1975 CPAC speech is something like a legend. In it he demanded that Republicans raise a banner with 'no pale pastels, but bold colours which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people.'
Conservatives don't like viewing themselves as the stingy accountants depriving the destitute and down-on-their-luck government aid they need. Conservatives believe that anti-poverty programs are so poorly designed they often lock their beneficiaries into poverty. They create a 'culture of dependency.'
By proposing an 'empowerment society' to take the place of the entitlements, conservatives are practicing what George Will once called 'statecraft as soul-craft.' Conservatives believe that breaking a government-created culture of dependency will not just make people more productive, but give them self-worth on top. It's not just good for the bottom-line on a government ledger, but good for our souls.
Herman says these are the values his father instilled in him and his brother when they were young children and that they are the secret to 'achieving your American dreams.'
No statement could better blend expressions of Protestant Christianity, Self-Help Optimism, and American Civic Religion than the above.
This line can fire up snake-handling Pentecostals, American entrepreneurs who happen to believe in a higher power, and conservatives who simply like the sound of traditional religion to accompany an unapologetic assertion of American power abroad. It's vague enough to be inoffensive and inclusive, but stated with so much conviction and obvious love of country that it makes conservatives swoon.
Here Cain is tapping deep into the conservative psyche. 'Renewal' is more than just a synonym for revival. For many on the right, 'renewal' isn't just fresh energy, it is enthusiasm derived from a re-dedication to first principles.
There are 'renewal movements' in Mainline Protestant churches aimed at restoring conservative belief to entire ecclesial bodies. The charismatic revival is considered a 'renewal movement' across all denominations, returning the spirit of the Apostolic Church to modern times.
In Cain's speech, this call for renewal means a commitment to the original meaning of the Constitution, and America's founding documents. And this commitment will in itself bring about conservative spiritual and cultural changes to America.
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