As Herman Cain’s long shot campaign to become the GOP’s first black presidential nominee continues to gain in the polls he is writing a one-of a-kind Hollywood fantasy. What if both candidates for the White House in 2012, Republican and Democrat, are black?
And what happens to American politics if a black Republican wins the White House by winning the black vote?
Until now this movie seemed far-fetched. It fit in the same make-believe movie fiction genre as Jimmy Stewart being saved by an angel in the classic make-believe film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But since Cain handily won the Florida Republican Party’s straw poll this movie is pushing toward reality.
The latest Fox News national poll puts Cain in a strong third place position in the GOP race. He is statistically tied with Texas Governor Rick Perry for second place. He turned in a great performance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Friday night and has been all over cable news capitalizing on his surge. His new book, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House” hits stores this week.
Mitt Romney remains the frontrunner but his campaign seems stuck at about 25 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile Cain, the most dynamic speaker of all the candidates, continues to exceed expectations. He has been doing the hard work of organizing and meeting voters in the early states. He seems to be having some staff problems but if he can pull in some big money contributions to combine with his momentum he may be on his way to the nomination.
It is certainly a mistake to dismiss Cain -- as Sarah Palin did last week -- as just “the next flavor of the week.” To be completely fair Palin later said she did not mean to dismiss him as a fluke who will soon return to the bottom of the pack. She said her real target was mainstream media culture that fixates on one candidate only to immediately tear them down. She is right about that – but that’s another column for another day.
In fact, I have said that Cain’s victory in Florida owes a lot to conservative discontent with Perry and Romney. I think he is getting a lot of protest votes.
But GOP voters I met in Florida last week scolded me and said they support him because he is a real conservative, an inspiring person with an economic plan they understand and experience as a businessman.
It's safe to say that no matter where this movie goes from here Cain has already flipped the script on the standard racial dialogue in American politics. That happened with his very real and very powerful attacks on the liberal black establishment.
Cain said if he is the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012 he will win a third of the black vote and end the liberal Democratic hold on black politics. And he said he will do that in a contest against a black Democrat – President Obama.
Cain stuck the knife into black liberals even deeper when he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
“Many African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a [black] conservative point of view. I have received some that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative. It is just brainwashing and people not being open minded, pure and simple.”
On Fox News Cain added that black voters in Atlanta, his hometown, constantly come up to him and begin whispering. They say they like him and his conservative positions. This happens so often he has started asking them why they are whispering. The answer is that black people fear being ostracized by other black people because they support a conservative – even if he is black.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday" last week Cain said:
“Anecdotally I run into people all the time and I share my 9-9-9 plan with them. Some black people that I run into – not all –… they won’t even take my little 9-9-9 brochure because [they hear that] I am that conservative, I’m that Republican. I call that being brainwashed. How can they make up their mind against something when they don’t know what it is?”
Cain’s bold comments drew heavy return fire from black leaders on the left. A clearly threatened Rev. Jesse Jackson called Cain’s words “demeaning and insulting” to black people. Jackson said black Americans can think for themselves and see Cain’s conservative positions on the minimum wage and health care reform are not in their political best interest.
Democratic Strategist Cornell Belcher called it a “racist, bigoted statement.” He said if a candidate said Jewish voters were “brainwashed” on the subject of Israel that candidate would be called a bigot and banned from TV.
Cain dismissed the backlash as the predictable retort from a crowd of black liberal Democrat politicians who fear losing their monopoly on black voters. And he issued more fighting words when he said his comments were “not as insensitive as the president of the United States standing in front of a major black audience, the Congressional Black Caucus, and scolding them because his policies have failed the country, his policies have failed black people.”
“That's more insensitive -- that's more insulting to me than me using a term brainwashed. It's their only weapon… to try to silence me because I'm a conservative. It's simply not going to work” he added.
Good for Herman Cain.
Whenever the mainstream media wants to know what the African American community is thinking, they invariably go to the usual liberal voices, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as if they speak for all black people.
Brilliant black conservative voices are viewed as tokens and inauthentic. That ranges from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to former transportation Secretary William Coleman, former Housing Secretary Al Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, author Thomas Sowell, Professor Walter E. Williams and businessman Herman Cain.
After a while, the idea that the GOP will never be able to win back the black vote has become a self fulfilling prophecy. For the last several decades even Republican candidates have given up and not put money into winning the black vote.
It didn’t always used to be that way. In 1956, Republican Dwight Eisenhower won almost 40% of the black vote. Four years later, Richard Nixon won 32% of the vote. The first African American Senator elected by popular vote was a Republican - Ed Brooke of Massachusetts
Cain is a self-made, successful businessman, a radio talk show host and a cancer survivor. But he is also a Baptist preacher and a graduate of Morehouse College, an elite and famous black college. Unlike Barack Obama, his ancestors are slaves who lived through Jim Crow segregation. Don’t forget that four years ago the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus was lined up to support Hillary Clinton.
I do not agree with Herman Cain on many policy issues. For instance, economists both conservatives and liberal agree his 9-9-9 plan will lead to higher tax bills for the middle class and the poor.
But how do you think older black people will vote if they are asked to pick between Cain and Obama. One is a black businessman, preacher and a Southerner and the other is a bi-racial, Ivy League graduate who rarely goes to church, has fewer blacks in his cabinet than George W. Bush and who supports gay rights.
After this week, it is no longer outside the realm of possibilities that the Party of Lincoln will choose a black Republican as their standard bearer to defeat the first black president. Now that’s a blockbuster!
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His most recent book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.