Tastes like failure

Tastes like failure
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It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for the Republicans. Or, more specifically, it hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for the Republicans who aren’t Mitt Romney. Virtually all of the former Massachusetts governor’s leading rivals for the GOP nomination have seen their campaigns run into some sort of major scandal or controversy as of late, generating a string of outrages and upsets that have helped consolidated an already stubborn narrative that only squeaky-clean Mitt is truly ready for prime time.

First, Michelle Bachmann. It seems like the faintest of faint memories, but there was a time, not too many months ago, when this self-proclaimed Tea Party stalwart was topping the polls. Now she’s lingering in the single digits, and can barely keep her own staff in order. On October 21, her entire New Hampshire campaign team quit en masse, in what was seen as a tacit admission that the Congresswoman had resigned herself to a Romney victory in that state.

Strategically wise, perhaps. As a strong religious conservative with limited cash, it’s perfectly logical for Bachmann to concentrate her resources on eking out primary wins in more culturally conservative Iowa and South Carolina — but the optics were still terrible. A few days later, the leader of the Tea Party group American Majority openly called for her head, accusing her of running a vain and hopeless campaign that was hurting the Tea Party brand by association. “I think it’s pretty obvious that Michele Bachmann is about Michele Bachmann,” the group’s executive director told CNN.

Then there’s Rick Perry, the man who, at least initially, seemed to gain support at the expense of Bachmann, particularly after her absurd accusations that the Governor was forcibly inoculating “little girls” with brain-retarding drugs in exchange for fat kickbacks from Big Pharma. And for much of September, Perry was indeed the cause célèbre of the conservative set, prided for his charm and proven not-being-Mitt Romney bona fides. A series of awful debate performances seemed to quickly give a lot of Republicans second thoughts, however, and Perry’s numbers soon slipped back down as quickly as they had risen.

There are some theories that the sheer emotional despair prompted by this rapid decline explains the Governor’s… performance at a New Hampshire fundraiser last week. If you haven’t seen the highlight reel yet, I highly advise it. In it, an incredibly erratic, giggly, loud, goofy, slurring, and wide-eyed Perry babbles with such over-the-top vigor and flamboyance he comes off more like a Saturday Night Live caricature of himself, or one of those fake lib dub videos, than an actual… well, adult, I guess. Whether or not the video, which has predictably gone viral, will have an impact on folks beyond YouTube nerds has yet to be seen, but I can’t imagine Team Perry is enjoying having their “No, he wasn’t drunk” press releases dominating the headlines, in any case.

Lastly, we have Herman Cain, the man whom the polls still claim is Romney’s most serious opponent at the moment — a fact which causes no shortage of discomfort to the American punditocracy, who long ago (and with great self-assuredness) dismissed the man as a joke. As a charismatic, non-politician, southern black guy, in the eyes of many conservative voters, Cain seemed like the most aggressively non-Romney candidate yet, and his October surge was perhaps not entirely unpredictable, given the flaws of his two flavor-of-the month predecessors. Yet Cain’s rise was also a classic example of love of the unknown. Lacking a preexisting national profile or well-known background, Cain was free to define himself as the 9-9-9 tax plan guy without distraction, and in the words of one blogger, offer up a “personal interpretation of his own resume” in substitution for any readily verifiable presidential qualifications. Reality was bound to catch up.

Over the last couple of days, Cain has been actively dodging reality in the form of his recently revealed past as an allegedly chronic sexual harasser. Despite some initial denials and a conveniently spotty memory, the former pizzaman has now admitted that during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association of America, his organization settled at least two harassment charges out of court for hefty sums, both relating to inappropriate conduct on the part of Cain himself. A third former employee has also recently come forward, and although she never brought formal harassment charges against the man, she claims to have considered it, helping verify the accusations of the other two.

Long-forgotten harassment allegations are, of course, nothing new for high-profile political candidates. If Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are any indication, they can be easily survived, as well. What’s made the Cain case somewhat different, however, is the thoroughly undisciplined way he has chosen to engage with the scandal, not only with his lame-then-retracted denials, but also by peddling a petty and angry conspiracy theory that a certain Perry campaign operative was responsible for leaking the whole story. Though Cain and Perry have indeed shared some staff in the past, the allegation that a disgruntled former Cainiac-cum-Perryite was airing his ex-boss’ dirty laundry for partisan gain proved to be entirely baseless, and culminated in a sad Cain retreat.

So the Cain bubble seems poised to pop, perhaps to be eclipsed by a Gingrich bubble, or a second round of the Bachmann bubble, or maybe a Paul or Santorum bubble — who knows. The only thing that seems to be stable in this race is Romney’s unquivering base of 25% support. It’s a pathetically small chunk of the electorate to ride to victory, but when winning seems so certain, why bother to aim higher?


  1. @andrewfergusson

    It's good to see the pending collapse of a corporate presidential candidate. People constantly refer to Cain a a former pizza baron and skip his most recent employment: mouth piece of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. (Why buy a candidate when you've already one on your payroll?) His financial dealings would serve to do more damage to him and his backers in the long run than the sexual harassment revelations he faces now. Somehow, Cain managed to get his campaign seed money in a shady (and potentially illegal) way despite unlimited and anonymous corporate donations being permitted since Citizens United. Very sloppy work.

    At least we're in a situation that the next presidential election will be a pick between two not entirely terrible choices. (Since Obama is as much of a Democrat as Romney is a Republican). I guess it comes down to the Vice presidential pick.

  2. Thomas

    Why isn't Romney included in your corporate presidential candidate scheme? Almost thirty years of corporate business doesn't qualify?

    Or because he didn't work for a consumer brand everyone sees right up front it doesn't count?

  3. Jake

    Because he didn't deal with the laws nor the lobbying. He opened businesses and set them on their way. He has all the good of business with none of the baggage.

  4. @ID_Fox

    @andrewfergusson Koch brothers accusation! <takes a shot>

    Blech… it's only 8 AM… couldn't you have made your conspiracist comment 8 hours later?

  5. @Kisai

    What I find bizarre is that the American public cares more about scandals than about the success or failure of politicians while they hold office. It's like political success runs on charisma only.

  6. Thomas

    This is just a tiny taste. Remember the death of Anna Nichole Smith?

    Remember anything important in that entire month?

  7. Iokobos

    The "pop culture ADHD consciousness American Idol voters" care more about scandals than what politicians are up to or accused of. Unfortunately our media treats them as an important demographic.

  8. billytheskink

    Perry is no stranger to the loopy public speaking appearance. Had his debate with Tony Sanchez during the 2002 Texas gubernatorial election been televised nationally, SNL and the like would have been all over it (providing they found it possible to make that debate funnier than it already was).

    Perry's ad slogan during that campaign was "He's got the experience, the leadership, and the vision to lead Texas". Among other humorous things, Perry threw that slogan into darn near every answer he gave in the debate.
    "I have the experience, the leadership, and the vision, to ensure that semi-trucks transporting cargo from the Rio Grande Valley are safe for Texas roads." for example…

  9. Thomas

    I think the solid support Romney has isn't from anything more special than he's a long time republican, actually held a position of political importance, and doesn't seem to have dropped anything to out of the ordinary for a republican to do.

    He's not a new face, not one of the rather new tea party, and, judging by how clean his public info is (really, check his wiki, I think it smells like lemon scented cleaner still), his staff is competent in making him look good in the best light possible without losing who Romney is.

    If Cain keeps getting set backs and resurgences, eventually he won't be unknown to the voters anymore, and they will probably go to someone that is more familiar to them.

    Romney just needs to sit back and let his opponents maul each other and themselves then wait for their voters to become exasperated and come to him. Without falling into the same hole.

  10. AddThreeAndFive

    How about a Huntsman bubble?

  11. Thomas

    Google image, moderate safe, search for Huntsman. 18 images of a creepy spider, 19th image a man that looks like a politician, 17 more images of spiders, then a strangely hilarious mish-mash of spiders, politicians, and other images with huntsman tags.

  12. Kwyjor

    Now that the phrase "Santorum bubble" has appeared, I think any further use of the term should best be avoided.

  13. Thomas

    I hope the "Bubble" bubble bursts.

  14. @Cristiona

    The -gate bubble shows no sign of popping, so I wouldn't expect the bubble bubble to pop.

    I always hoped for a scandal at the Village Gate nightclub so we could have had 'Gate-gate.

  15. @ID_Fox

    How about Huntsman go primary Obama?

    He has Harry Reid's endorsement.

  16. drs

    Romney has corporate experience but he also has not-terrible experience as governor of Massachusetts, and thus has a step on our cursus honorum.

    “conspiracist”: A quick search finds http://www.npr.org/2011/11/04/142006513/cain-has-… Is one of “Cain has long ties with AFP” or “AFP was founded by the Koch brothers” demonstrably false?

    sex scandal survivability: Not to mention Clarence Thomas!

    But not all allegations seem equally substantial, and also candidate supporter demographics differ. With Arnold, being a womanizer might have been part of the appeal. Cain’s supposed to be a social conservative darling, though, where you’d think it’d sit less well.

  17. Iokobos

    It depends on how much you consider the Kock Bros to be boogie men.

  18. Alejandro

    I think that Gingrich or Paul are next to have their moment in the spotlight. Gingrich one the last debate by just being frank and honest but Paul is racking in some serious cash (millions from individual donations) and has one the last three straw polls with 60-80% of the vote.

    I think it is good to have a individual comparison between each of the candidates and Romney since Mitt is the classic stereotype of a candidate, and the others need to be put under some pressure.

  19. Jon Bennett

    Only three candidates running on either ticket are qualified to be President: Romney, Gingrich, and Huntsman (who is running for the wrong party's nomination).

    Ron Paul has been in the House for two generations and has never managed a leadership role and has never succeeded in any of his signature goals while rile up his base so well. Bachmann is a phony Conservative and a genuine nutjob. Perry disqualified himself with his secessionist talk. Cain knows as much about politics and policy as he does about nuclear physics. Obama's failures are obvious for everyone to see.

  20. Nicolasrll

    Not that obvious to all the people who would rather vote for him than the three other guys you like, apparently.

  21. Jon Bennett

    Not saying I like them. Just saying they have the necessary resume, and unlike Perry, haven't said anything on the record that amounts to Treason.

  22. AddThreeAndFive

    Gingrich has no chance of winning.

  23. Alejandro

    Personally I think he is running to be Vice President as he is building his posture and status nationally so he could run against Joe Biden for the VP.

  24. Jon Bennett

    Gingrich has as much chance of winning as Richard Nixon did in 1968.

  25. Virgil

    Bubbles explained:

    Romney is running as a moderate. In the Republican party Moderates are outnumbered by Conservatives. Romney gets 25-30% of the vote on that basis.

    The remaining 70% is divided. They have been running from one candidate to another but its hard to find one without baggage that would be compelling. Bachman demonstrated poor judgment in the tenor of her attacks on Perry. Perry has not been wearing well in the polls and debates. Cain….remains to be seen. Gingrich has the brains and the resume, but also has a messy personal history. Paul makes the national security types nervous. Santorum has not been able to take off.

    That leaves Huntsman….who as a more moderate than Romney character appears to be this race's John Anderson. Hard to run as the moderate when that vote is already accounted for.

  26. guest

    Everyone agrees that in many ways Romney seems like the unavoidable candidate.
    And yet with several of the others self-destructing he still can't get his numbers above 25%!
    This is a real problem.
    Unless Romney can start shifting support from some of the fringe players to him he might be the unavoidable candidate that got avoided!