(From New America Media)
ByÂ Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The name Herman Cain and the words GOP presidential nominee make for a pitiable oxymoron. But the irrepressible talk show host and former Godfather Pizza CEO still thinks that he can stand the GOP on its head and get it to nominate him, an African-American, as its 2012 presidential standard bearer.
Cain certainly has the right stuff to be considered a serious contender. He’s articulate, passionate, and spouts the hardcore conservative line, backing draconian immigration crackdowns, opposing abortion and gay marriage, endorsing a muscular military and a repeal of the health care reform law, a wildly regressive national sales tax to replace income taxes, and scaling government to the bare bone.
Cain has consistently scored at or near the top in straw polls by Tea Party activists and leaders as their choice of water-bearer for the party. And judging from the mostly white crowds that he whips into a frenzy when he lambastes Obama and big government, Cain appears to have effectively trumped race. Or has he? It’s one thing to shout out the right buzzwords to a crowd whose beliefs are in lock step with the candidate, but it’s quite another thing to get those same voters to punch the ticket for an African-American, no matter how conservative, in the primaries.
Cain is banking on them doing precisely that, just as many white Democrats pushed race aside and backed Obama in 2008. What he forgets is that many didn’t. And that their reluctance to do so was based purely on race.
That was evident in Obama’s bruising primary battles with Hillary Clinton in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Texas when Clinton got a majority of white Democratic votes. In a 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Yale political economist found that in 2006 House races, Democrats were nearly 40 percent less likely to back a black Democratic candidate than a white Democrat. That changed somewhat two years later, due in part to Obama’s race neutral campaign, absolute voter disgust with GOP corruption, Bush’s domestic and foreign policy fumbles, a lackluster GOP presidential contender and a laughingstock of a VP candidate, plus a tanked economy.
Cain is also buoyed by the 2010 Congressional wins of black GOP candidates Allan West in Florida and Tim Scott in South Carolina. But West and Scott won in rock solid GOP districts, against weak, under-funded Democratic foes. Their wins were regional wins with absolutely no national implications or, for that matter, any real influence in Congress. They are just two of hundreds of GOP congresspersons, and they are in no position to make, shape or dictate policy to either Congress or the Party.
The GOP presidential candidate is a different matter. He is more than just the Party’s most important political standard-bearer. He is the standard by which the Party is judged and gauged by voters. And that doesn’t just mean his philosophy, positions, style, and vision of governance. It means his visibility, and in this race does matter. If Obama had a tough sell with many white Democrats, at least initially, Cain has an impossible sell with the broad rank and file in the GOP.
The same 2006 Yale study also found that white Republicans were 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near twenty-year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.
Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. GOP leaders have long known that blue-collar, white male voters can easily be aroused to vote and shout loudly on the emotional wedge issues: abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and tax cuts. For 14 months, the Republicans whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against health care reform. These are the very voters that GOP Presidents and aspiring Presidents — Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons — banked on to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.
The GOP’s “Win with the White Vote” strategy failed in 2008 only because of the frantic desire of millions of voters for change and the massive outpouring of support for Obama from black, Latino and young voters. But an Obama Cain isn’t. And even if he were, the GOP’s Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and non-college educated blue-collar whites, make up a huge, powerful and core GOP voting bloc. If the Party’s past and present racial history is any gauge, Cain won’t do much to get them to pull the lever en masse for him.
Cain will get his headlines, and win a straw poll here and there, but when it comes to GOP voters pulling the lever for a black man for President, the name Cain and the words GOP presidential nominee will remain an oxymoron.