As noted below, this guide has been updated. This guide was originally published on September 13, 2011.
This is the latest installment in a series of reading guides on 2012 presidential candidates. Here are the other guides.
As the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain touts himself as the “non-politician” candidate of the 2012 race. He impressed viewers in the first GOP debate, but he has struggled recently to remain in the picture.
Cain, 65, is a staunch conservative who promises to use “common sense” business solutions to revive the U.S. economy. He wants to dramatically reduce taxes, cut government spending and cut back on government regulation of business. He also opposes legalized abortions and affirmative action and says he “supports traditional marriage.”
Cain is also one of the most colorful Republican candidates. Known to friends as "The Hermanator," he has trademarked the phrase “The Hermanator Experience” and occasionally talks about himself in the third person. (“Let me tell you something about Herman Cain!”) In a detailed piece on Cain’s political rise, Slate’s David Weigel describes how the Tea Party has embraced Cain because he’s a political outsider. “That's the oddity of the Cain campaign: He's a man out of time,” Weigel writes. “In the 1990s and 2000s, there was no easy way to transition from The Man Who Invented the Hot Slice into politics. In 2011, the Republican electorate wants to hear from anyone who's not a politician.” The Atlantic reported that Cain attended more than 40 Tea Party rallies last year. But while Cain won the first Tea Party straw poll in February, a recent Gallup poll shows Cain’s Tea Party support has fallen to 6 percent.
Cain first grabbed the national spotlight in 1994, when he was credited with taking down Bill Clinton’s health-care reform plan. During a town hall meeting, Cain publicly challenged Clinton’s estimate of how much the employer mandate, which would have required all employers to provide their workers with health care, would cost businesses. Cain then wrote an open letter with his calculation of the cost of an employer mandate to Godfather’s Pizza.
At the time, Cain was president of the National Restaurant Association and held a seat on the board of directors of the Kansas City Federal Reserve [PDF]. He went on to work as an adviser to the vice-presidential campaign of Jack Kemp in 1996. Kemp described Cain as “a black guy who stands up with the voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality and the courage of a lion."
In an interview with the National Review, Cain cited Kemp as a major influence in his political life. In 2004, Cain ran for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, coming in second with 26.2 percent of the vote.
Cain points to his success bringing Godfather’s Pizza back from the verge of bankruptcy as a sign that he’d come to Washington with practical solutions for economic recovery. PolitiFact found that, while Godfather’s wasn’t literally filing for bankruptcy, Cain did help stabilize the company financially “by uniting the franchisees, overhauling the chain's advertising, and getting his team focused on its core mission: pizza.”
Views, promises and controversy:
Cain has been promoting his “9-9-9 plan,” which would create a flat tax of 9 percent for corporations and individuals, and as a national sales tax. In a video promoting the plan, Cain says that “our tax code is the 21st-century version of slavery.”
(Update, 10/18) Analyses across the political spectrum have found that the 9-9-9 plan would significantly increase the deficit and leave inadequate funding for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — Talking Points Memo has a good roundupof evaluations from outfits ranging from The National Review on the right to the Center for American Progress on the left. Cain claims the plan would be “revenue neutral” – in other words, that the decreased tax burden would energize the economy so much that the government’s total tax revenue wouldn’t decline. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy found that, on closer inspection, Cain’s plan generates more revenue than expected, since it doesn’t let businesses deduct wages and salaries from their gross income for tax purposes. But, he speculates, business would shift much of the tax burden onto workers, leading Cassidy to call Cain’s plan “an eighteen-per-cent plan disguised as a nine-per-cent plan.” Citing an academic analysis by USC’s Edward D. Kleinbard, Cassidy writes:
Ultimately, rather than paying nine per cent of their income in income taxes, workers would face a rate of close to eighteen per cent. Half of these taxes the I.R.S. would collect directly. The other half employers would deduct from workers’ paychecks and pass on to the government.
Cain has also advocated privatizing Social Security, following the “Chilean model.” Mother Jones has a piece on how Chile transitioned to private pension accounts in 1981, a move that’s gotten mixed reviews.
Cain is against abortion and has said that Planned Parenthood was founded in order to “help kill black babies before they came into the world.”
Cain came under fire for saying that communities have the right to ban the construction of mosques. He later issued a statement apologizing for his remarks.
Following the money:
You can view information on Cain’s campaign contributors at his OpenSecrets.org page. As of June, he’d raised only about $2.6 million, a small sum compared to Mitt Romney’s $18.4 million and President Obama’s $46.3 million.