Cain’s Lonesome Road; Obama Re-Discovers the Joy of Talking Points
Cain Non-Campaign Campaign Leaves Candidate Dangling
"If the restaurant association did a settlement, I wasn't even aware of it, and I hope it wasn't for much because nothing happened.”
-- Herman Cain on “Happening Now with Jon Scott and Jenna Lee.”
“We ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement."
-- Herman Cain “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”
Herman Cain could be getting a raw deal on decade-old sexual harassment charges, but he and his campaign are certainly not doing anything to put the story away.
Cain prides himself on an unconventional campaign approach that eschews a large organization in favor of, as he says letting “Cain be Cain” which amounts to having the campaign be a one-man band organized around Cain’s multiple media appearances.
But while Cain managed to talk himself into the lead of the Republican primary process, he may now be talking himself out of it.
The reasons all the other campaigns have “conventional” press flacks, message gurus and other personnel is that, like anti-lock brakes, they’re just an added expense most of the time, but good to have when you need them.
It was Cain’s bad luck that the emergence of settlement payments made to female subordinates for sexual harassment charges came just as he arrived in Washington for a whirlwind media tour. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York points out, rather than talking about tax policy or starting to elaborate his foreign policy positions, Cain has been explaining and re-explaining over and over again. That’s just unhappy happenstance.
But it has been Cain’s own decision to not have the necessary support staff to deal with such eventualities.
Instead of having surrogates and spokespeople lay out the specifics of a pair of harassment charges from two separate women during his less than three years as the head of the National Restaurant Association, Cain has been attempting his own damage control. That leaves a candidate to make a legalistic defense where even the most experienced and careful communicators would struggle to avoid contradictions and errata.
One of the reasons campaigns have spokespeople and surrogates is that they can be fired. You can’t fire the candidate.
Consider Rick Perry’s campaign. Right now, Washington is snickering about his rambling wreck of an October. But Rather than having Perry explain each gaffe, he has professionals to tell the Washington Post to go pound salt and money enough to reintroduce himself to voters.
This week, the super PAC in support of Perry will go up in South Carolina with a positive ad and Perry’s surrogates will continue to try to provide operational space for the candidate to continue his rollout on policy. Perry has gotten a second chance in the race because he raised the money that built the organization that provides the cover that allows for mistakes.
Newt Gingrich, the third contender with Cain and Perry to be the GOP’s anti-Romney (a role that takes on increased urgency as the frontrunner receives more and more heat for his extremely nuanced policy positions), lost almost his entire campaign staff over the summer and has a penchant for saying too many words when a few would suffice. But he still has a competent, albeit small, corps of communications and message personnel who help him avoid paying the ultimate price for the mistakes every candidate invariably makes.
As Gingrich continues to rise in the polls, the same kind of scrutiny that exploded Newt 1.0 with questions about his wife’s jewelry and his positions on Paul Ryan’s Medicare prescription will return. But there wouldn’t be any Newt 2.0 for reporters to hassle if he hadn’t kept a protective firewall around himself.
Republicans like to lament America’s crummy media culture, and have sometimes succeeded in turning hit pieces into self-destruction devices for biased reporters (the Bush Texas Air National Guard memos takedown, most notably). But most of the time, it’s like bad weather. You can commiserate with your friends about it, but there’s nothing you can do but put on your boots.
Cain is trying to run for president without a presidential campaign, but as he is discovering this week, there’s a reason that those “conventional” candidates surround themselves with veterans of national campaigns. Those are the people that buy them the time they need to try to salvage their mistakes.
As Election Nears, Obama Rediscovers Message Discipline
“Steps like these won’t replace the bold action we need from Congress to get our economy moving and strengthen middle-class families, but they will make a difference.”
-- Statement from President Obama on his decision to designate Virginia’s Fort Monroe as a national monument.
President Obama will huddle today with Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders. The topic will almost certainly be what coordinated efforts they can take to make Republicans look like the obstructionist lackeys of “millionaires and billionaires.”
And so far, Obama is having some success. Obama has stopped his slide in the polls and is recovering a bit after the long-delayed but often-promised “hard pivot to jobs.”
It has actually been more of a hard pivot to kicking the beans out of Republicans and rediscovering the political utility of class conflict. With the economy unlikely to improve at a satisfactory pace before the election, Obama has embraced harsh rhetoric and a political scorched earth strategy. That, in turn, finally lets Democrats know where he’s going and which talking points to parrot.
One of Obama’s biggest political weaknesses is going off topic. He put his presidency at risk by opting to proceed with an unpopular health law when everyone else wanted to talk about the economy, but in small ways has repeatedly undercut himself.
Now, with his presidency and the health care law itself on the line, Obama has rediscovered the beauty of simplicity and repetition.
Obama has lately taken on the guise of Harry Truman, a populist Democrat doing battle with the entrenched interests of Washington. It’s a bit of a stretch for a guy who has gotten heat from his base for letting the drug lobby help draft the health law and being a Wall Street co-dependent, but he has taken to his task like a man afraid for his life.
Obama’s latest talking point is that he is willing to push the boundaries of executive power in order to help repair the shattered economy. Economists left and right agree that the things he is doing – easier credit for undesirable mortgages, helping veterans get jobs in clinics, a student stimulus for college loan recipients and the establishment of a Web site to help small business owners – don’t amount to much.
Obama even agrees, saying over and over again that his actions are insufficient but he’s going to do all he can because, gosh darn it, the Republicans want people to be miserable and unemployed (apparently with particular hatred for the unemployed blue collar workers of Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Nevada) so they can regain power.
Even the designation of a Civil War fort important to black history buffs – the place where Union forces first began to grant refuge to escaped slaves – is an opportunity to invoke his talking points about his own tenacious goodness and the unpatriotic Republicans.
Making Fort Monroe a national monument won’t get America off the schneid, but Obama is quite happy to make what other presidents would see as a chance to polish up their culture credentials as a chance to talk about the economy.
The message may disappoint the highbrow moderates who once extolled Obama’s thoughtfulness and centrism, but it sure is easier for the rest of the Blue Team to follow. He loves it when Republicans complain about his tactics and executive overreach. It’s the Michael Scott defense: Did I make mistakes? Yes. I tried too hard and I cared too much.
This is how Obama will get back to 47 percent job approval. He will repeat his talking points on the economy and attacks on Republicans until everyone left of center rallies to his standard. If he stays on message, he’ll get there and then can undertake an even uglier task: destroying whomever the Republicans pick to claw his way to re-election.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Unless Cain collects himself, thinks it through and remembers it, makes notes and talks about it with people who remember, he is going to have trouble with what will be called the cover-up. There isn't a cover-up yet. But it's inconsistent. That is what kills you in the end, even if you are innocent at the beginning.”
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.