By Roland S. Martin
Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain has vaulted to the top of the Republican presidential field because GOP voters like his plain-spoken talk and his willingness to bring radical change to the U.S. tax code. And in a year when touting a long career in politics isn’t a good idea, he’s getting points for having no political experience.
It’s easy to vault up the ladder, but it’s just as easy to come falling back down when people begin taking everything you say seriously, which should always be the case when evaluating those running for president of the United States.
It was clear at CNN’s Republican debate Tuesday in Las Vegas that the other six candidates on stage weren’t going to let Cain skate through another debate touting his “9-9-9” tax plan and smiling and joking. The knives came out quickly, and the former conservative radio show host must have felt like he was getting ambushed.
Yet it was a question posed two hours earlier by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that brought Cain and his supporters back down to reality.
Using as an example the Israeli government’s exchange of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli solider, Wolf Blitzer asked Cain if he would release al-Qaida operatives in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a U.S. soldier.
“I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer, but what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options and then, the president has to make a judgment call,” Cain said.
When questioned on that, Cain quickly backtracked, saying, “Things are moving so fast,” and that he misspoke.
Well, Mr. Cain, as we saw this week with the killing of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, and the U.S. Senate’s rejection of a portion of the president’s jobs bill, things move pretty quickly in the White House. And the American people expect that the leader of the free world will be able to handle it all.
A few days before the debate, Cain caused an uproar by saying he would build an electric fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants.
When pressed about it, he demurred, saying, “That’s a joke.” Americans need to get a sense of humor, he added.
Sorry, Herman, but when a presidential candidate touches on the hot-button issue of immigration, you can expect the media and the American people to take you seriously.
But far more damaging to Cain this week was an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. Cain gave the impression that he was pro-choice while simultaneously saying he was pro-life.
His confusing answer, as well as the anger with which socially conservative Republicans responded, forced Cain to amend his statement and reiterate that he is pro-life.
Are all of these problems manageable? Sure. Every candidate goes through this. But Cain is no ordinary candidate. He’s a political novice who’s trying to get the American people to trust that his business background is the most important qualification for becoming president.
There is no doubt that the 2012 presidential election will hinge on the economy and who voters think can best turn it around. But Cain needs to quickly realize that the person occupying the Oval Office has to be able to deal with domestic and foreign issues. And in every debate, Cain has faltered or looked like an amateur when discussing what’s happening around the globe.
Discipline is the greatest trait for someone running for president. For Cain, that seems like a hindrance more than it is an asset.
He’s sitting in a very good position today, according to the polls. But unless Cain is able to articulate his positions without later issuing a clarifying statement, he’ll be just another flash in the pan who’ll be remembered more for his joking and singing on the campaign trail than for being a man who was serious about taking on the toughest job in the world.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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