Keep an eye on Cain, but don’t bet on him


Herman Cain

It’s all about the 9-9-9.

And 9-9-9 translates into the latest political wonder man, Herman Cain. But he’s your non-Fred Thompson political wonder man. Herman Cain is not exactly Mr. Law & Order. In fact, he’s the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. And that is precisely and  ironically why Herman Cain is so entertaining to watch.

To be fair, the GOP nomination process has become a fast form of entertainment in and of itself. Think about it: The debates have about the regularity of a TV series and you have a regular cast of characters. The variable in the series is the lead character. He shifts. It’s Romney to Perry to Romney to Cain. Romney is the steady, and most relied upon lead, it’s true. But, now enter Herman Cain…

And, so, the flavor of the month has taken off. Note the Oct. 10 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll that found Cain leading Romney by four percentage points (27 percent to 23 percent). Two days later, a Rassmussen Report poll showed Cain and Romney tied at 29 percent. Somehow between the Sept. 22 GOP debate and winning the Sept. 23 Florida straw poll, the man from nowhere became the man going somewhere.

One message

How did this happen? Herman Cain told reporters in New Hampshire the other week that it’s message, not money. Well to that point, Cain has successfully voiced one message and one message fully: 9-9-9.

Let’s chat about this 9-9-9 plan. Essentially it’s a valiant effort to scrap the existing federal tax structure, entirely, to include the elimination of the Social Security tax, the estate tax, and the capitol gains tax. The 9-9-9 would mandate three things:


  • a 9 percent flat individual income tax rate.
  • a 9 percent flat corporate income tax rate.
  • a 9 percent national sales tax.

Now, quite frankly, I don’t understand the beauty of the 9-9-9 plan. I’ve worked it over and if you are a small business – or any business – it’s a triple tax on your income. Not ideal. If you are a low- or middle-income family, in many cases you are going to pay more under the 9-9-9. Finally, regarding the national sales tax, let’s not forget the fact that you still have local and state taxes to contend with (in most states).

The math here is simple: A 9 percent national sales tax plus state and local levies equals a tax on goods of 17 percent or more. Again, not ideal. Of course, as a fiscal conservative I fully understand that the tax structure is in dire need of restructuring, but I’m not so sure Cain’s messaging on this point – his one point – sustains him.

Maybe VP, maybe Mr. Secretary

Switching from the policy to the political, I would posit that the critical point for Herman Cain is going to be Iowa. In less than three months, on Jan. 3, the Iowa caucus takes place. Cain stands a chance here if he can capture the social conservative vote, for which he, Bachmann, Perry and Santorum are all competing. If Cain can edge out the others here, then he might just be able to pick up traction. However, in this day and age, I am not sure you can get there with a staff of 35, one fledgling idea, and such a money disadvantage. Others might argue with this point, as pointed out in a Washington Post article over the weekend:

“If Facebook could be used to topple the Egyptian government, then perhaps Herman Cain can use it to win Iowa,” said Phil Musser, a Republican strategist who most recently worked for the short-lived presidential bid of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. “Thus far, the traditional approach to running for president in 2012 has paid few dividends, and the old must-dos have proven to be less important milestones than expected.”

Truth be told, I don’t think Cain can clinch the nomination with 9-9-9. Because, ultimately, I think money and the machine matter in politics in addition to the message. So, while I’d place my bet on Romney (and, yes, I worked on his book), I don’t disagree that Cain is certainly someone to watch.

Mark McKinnon, one of my favorites for the last 11 years, had this to say about Herman Cain in The Daily Beast:

Herman Cain is going to be around for a while, and people should start taking him seriously. If he’s not president, he could be vice president. Or bet the under and just start calling him Mr. Secretary.”

That’s fine. I could live with a Secretary Cain.

Sarah Lenti is the blogger behind’s The Savvy. E-mail her at For full disclosure, Lenti is a Republican strategist who worked closely with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s former PAC and on Romney’s book.

6 thoughts on “Keep an eye on Cain, but don’t bet on him

  1. Cain’s responses to his 9-9-9 plan on Meet the Press this last Sunday were unconvincing. His GOP rivals attack it, and even Grover Norquist calls it dangerous. And just look at who put it together – enough said.

  2. @gofdisks

    “9-9-9 is as a regressive tax scheme as they come and would bankrupt the government.”

    The government is bankrupt already.

    @Sarah Lenti

    I’m more concerned with Mr. Cain’s character. He has gone on record as saying an audit of the Federal Reserve “is a waste of time and money.”

    Here in this YT video we see Mr. Cain lie to Ron Paul’s face about the Federal Reserve at the GOP debate. Stay with the four-minute video until the end when you will hear Mr.Cain’s previous remarks on a Federal Reserve audit that he backtracks when confronted by Mr. Paul.

  3. Social conservative is code for intolerance, Apostolic Reformation, Dominionist, Spiritual Warrior magical thinking that if you are not rich, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.

    Exxagerate much?

  4. Cain is just one more sad example of the clowns the Repubs have running this cycle. Normally Obama would be toast, given his poor performance as a leader, his inability to charge up his liberal base (most OWS protesters dislike him as much as WS, who pays him of course), and his poor handling of the economy. But given the fools who are rushing in to the race on the GOP side, it will be easy for him to avoid the Jimma Carter collapse. And Cain’s 999 plan is dumb, dumb, dumb, and regressive, regressive, regressive.

  5. The bold new fiscal conservatism in action in racist scapegoating Alabama. Here is the conservative solution to it’s lack of cheap labor problems created by its draconian immigration policies.
    Alabama brings back slavery for Latinos
    ” Not only will this law supply fresh inmates to private detention centers in the state – like the one operated in Decatur by LCS correctional corporation – but it will also feed an already bloated national private prison system controlled by two major corporations, CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO group, which have a combined profit of more than $5bn a year. CCA, for example, runs the largest facility in the nation in neighboring Georgia and may potentially take a good portion of the detainees in Alabama. Charging $200 a night, this is an opportunity they’ll jump at.

    The difference between Alabama and adjoining states is that it is willing to go further down this track. Recently, John McMillan, agriculture commissioner, proposed that the farm work left behind by immigrant workers be supplied with inmate labor. Decatur, a private detention center about 50 miles to the north-west of Alabama, which had been unable to find jobs for inmates, has now witnessed record numbers of requests for labor (for an estimated 150 detainees a day).

    So, here is how it goes. First, the state passes a harsh immigration law. Then, it detains large numbers of immigrants. Third, private prisons (LCS, CCA, GEO) receive fresh inmates. And finally, the artificially created labor shortage is supplied by the new inmates. Does this sound like modern-day slavery to anyone?

    The rest of the country can only look in shock and dismay, as once again, Alabama, a state renowned for its historical role in racism, segregation and slavery, leads the nation into another round of shame.”

  6. Fiscal conservative is code for a return to the 1920s before Social Security, unemployment insurance, labor laws, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, worker safety laws, the Environmental Protection Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, and the Voting Rights Act.
    Social conservative is code for intolerance, Apostolic Reformation, Dominionist, Spiritual Warrior magical thinking that if you are not rich, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.
    Cain is off the deep end proposing an impossibly expensive electrified Wall of China with an alligator filled moat along the entire border.
    9-9-9 is as a regressive tax scheme as they come and would bankrupt the government. Its removal of the payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare along with its onerous shifting of taxes agressively and regressively down the economic ladder would mire this country in generations of rapidly growing poverty with far fewer social services. It is a plan for a third world America. SimCity economics is just make believe wishful lazy thinking.

    Long Ties to Koch Brothers Key to Cain’s Campaign
    ” Cain’s rise with the help of AFP shows the incredible influence that outside groups controlled by super-wealthy individuals with specific agendas can have on the political process.”

    “Herman Cain is the first presidential corporate spokes-candidate,” said Scot Ross, a liberal activist who leads One Wisconsin Now, which has often mocked AFP as a front group for corporate interests (Koch). “The best way to have your issues talked about in the issue debate is to have a candidate in your pocket with snappy comebacks and easily branded policy papers which mask how destructive they would be.”