DANA MILBANK

Raising Cain

Posted May 29, 2011, at 4:13 p.m.

I would like to think that I am a pioneer in the field of Hermaneutics.

Ever since Herman Cain stole the show at the first Republican presidential debate, I have been a fan of the pizza man, who also goes by “The Hermanator” and “Citizen Cain.” If asked whether he has a chance at the nomination, my instinct as a Cainiac would be to blurt out “Yes we Cain!” — but I am not Abel, because my editors would raise Cain.

It turns out I have a lot of company in my affection for the guy from Godfather’s Pizza. A nationwide Gallup poll released Thursday shows Cain with 8 percent support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — besting Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, and within striking distance of front-runner Mitt Romney, who had just 17 percent.

The Democratic National Committee has begun to take Cain seriously, issuing a “Rapid Response” fact check Thursday to a claim he had made. “Could he actually win the Republican nomination?” Politico asked.

Much as I’d like to think this surge is about the magnificence of the man, the Cain phenomenon is less about the Hermanator than about his competitors, or lack thereof. Gallup judged Romney to be “arguably the weakest front-runner in any recent Republican nomination campaign,” and Rich Lowry of the conservative National Review summed up the mood with a May 24 article titled “The Republican Field: Is This It?”

Certainly, there are things to like about Cain — particularly his fearlessness: “I support Ryan’s plan 100 percent,” Cain said on Fox News. He further said people should be “talking about the fact that the centerpiece of Ryan’s plan is a voucher” — a word the plan’s author, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., discourages. Responding to belittling of his candidacy by conservative gatekeepers Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer, Cain told the Daily Caller: “I’m not running to become president of the establishment.”

Yet there is no escaping a sense that the Hermanator is not ready for his starring role. When he formally launched his campaign on May 21, he proclaimed, “We need to reread the Constitution,” referring to “a little section in there that talks about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’” That’s from the Declaration of Independence.

The next day, on Fox, he was asked about the Palestinian “right of return” under a Middle East peace settlement. “The right of return? The right of return?” he asked. He later admitted: “I didn’t understand.” Earlier, in the debate, Cain acknowledged he had no Afghanistan policy and couldn’t define victory in Afghanistan. There’s also Cain’s unguarded mouth (he’s still walking back his assertion that he would not hire a Muslim for his cabinet) and his bare-bones campaign apparatus (he fielded a question from Chris Wallace about why his Hermanator PAC had only $13 at the end of March).

Another year, any one of these could have doomed Cain to the asterisk status of Alan Keyes or Morry “The Grizz” Taylor — but not this time. Just before the poll finding him in the thick of the Republican race, Gallup released results showing that Cain has the highest “positive intensity score” in the field, meaning his supporters were more passionate than those of Sarah Palin, Romney and the rest.

Mike Huckabee has generated enthusiastic support, but he said he wouldn’t run, joining the long list of big names on the sidelines: Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, John Thune and Chris Christie, who quipped, “Apparently, I actually have to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running.” At a session with reporters on March 23, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested that his friend Ryan run (he isn’t interested), but somebody turned the question on Cantor:

“Would you run?”

“Absolutely not.”

“And why not, sir?”

“I have no intention or desire to run. That’s why.”

Among those who do have the desire, it isn’t necessarily mutual. Bachmann announced plans to raise $240,000 in 24 hours but came up about $80,000 short in that time frame. Palin has tried to stir up interest in a candidacy by announcing a national bus tour — but her support has slipped in Iowa and New Hampshire. And Romney? When Sachs/Mason-Dixon pollsters asked which candidate Americans would most like to have lunch with, only 9 percent said Romney, compared with 10 percent for none of the above.

You don’t need a degree in Hermaneutics to know the pizza guy would be an excellent lunch date.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.

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