Credit (or blame) Florida for Herman Cain

Members of the Florida political class love to pat themselves on the back for how important their state is in electing a president, at least since 2000, when the state really did grab the attention of the whole world during the 36-day presidential recount that ultimately gave us George W. Bush.

But that kind of arrogance can also backfire. It undermined the relevance of FL's 2008 Democratic presidential primary — which featured in the Clinton/Obama battle royal, the most exciting primary contest in a generation — after the Democratic National Committee stripped the state of all of its delegates as a penalty for the state legislature voting to move up Florida's primary date. (The national GOP wasn't so strict toward the Republican Party of Florida, stripping only half of its delegates.)

That same supreme self-regard was on display a few months ago with the hype of Presidency 5, the RPOF's straw poll. That three-day GOPalooza grew to include a Fox News/Google-sponsored political debate and a CPAC-sponsored day of speeches from the candidates (plus Ann Coulter) before the straw poll. Republicans like Rick Scott predicted that the winner of the straw poll would be the next president of the U.S. Other commentators followed suit. And in some twisted way, they were right — for a little while, anyway — that the winner would make a splash in the 2011-2012 campaign season.

If you'll recall, that weekend the talk was all about Rick Perry going up against the longtime front-runner, Mitt Romney. But when the delegates stunned the political world in voting overwhelmingly for Cain, a few weeks later the pizza man had replaced the Texas governor as the new anti-Romney. Cain seized the role with gusto before his lack of knowledge on well, a lot of issues, as well as sexual harassment charges, did him in.

My favorite reporting about Cain was from the New York Times Magazine story a month ago by T.A. Frank that included this zinger:

Let us pause here to make a necessarily severe assessment: to say that Herman Cain has an imperfect grasp of policy would be unfair not only to George W. Bush in 1999 but also to Britney Spears in 1999. Herman Cain seems like someone who, quite frankly, has never opened a newspaper.

Frank also seemed to capture the essence of the Cain brand, if you will: the kind of self-confidence that makes you think you can B.S. yourself to the top.

No one gets into politics without having a healthy self-regard. Cain, it is safe to say, has a healthy self-regard.

It takes self-regard to keep an audience of several hundred waiting and then to use them as your backdrop while you’re taping a Huckabee show.

It takes self-regard to write of your only sibling, Thurman, who died at age 52 after years of substance abuse, and end it on this note: “I loved my brother dearly and still grieve over his untimely death. And I know that he is looking down proudly on my incredible journey.”

It takes self-regard to name your company the Herminator Experience.

It takes self-regard to go to a fancy dinner in Amsterdam with a group of colleagues from the National Restaurant Association and — well, let Biff Naylor, who was an N.R.A. officer at the time, explain: “We walk in, and the piano player is getting up to take a break. Herman turns to the owner and says, ‘Do you mind if I play the piano and sing some songs?’ And we’re all looking sideways at Herman. What is he doing? So he takes the piano and starts singing some Sinatra or whatever and just lights the place up.”

It takes self-regard to write down speaking tips and sign your name, as a keepsake, on every page.

Of course, that self-regard could also let you assume your attentions are welcomed and cause colleagues to file sexual-harassment complaints. That’s the drawback.

But most of the time it works in your favor.

It has been a weirdly useful self-regard.

Until it wasn't.

No fewer than four women, we learned, accused Cain of sexual harassment. But instead of that redounding against the candidate, conservatives like Rush Limbaugh doubled down, blaming the liberal media for the stories. Cain blamed the media, then blamed Rick Perry, then blamed the Democrats.

But after a fifth woman, Ginger White, came forward this past week to speak about what she said was a 13-year sexual affair, well, only the hardest of the hardcore were blaming others for the candidate's foibles.

But let's be honest. Cain was always entertaining. And he exposed further the disdain that much of the GOP electorate feel toward their best chance of defeating Barack Obama, Mitt Romney (well, after Jon Huntsman, that is).

And it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't won the Florida Straw Poll.

One might think that Herman Cain's "suspension" of his presidential campaign would be the last we'd hear of the former Godfather's Pizza CEO.

But like Sarah Palin before him, the "9-9-9" man will undoubtedly attempt to keep his face and voice in the media. It will be up to news outlets to decide if he what he has to say is newsworthy.

In what you might call his Not A Farewell speech, Cain warned as much. "I will not be quiet and I will not go away. I will continue to be a voice for the people," he vowed, introducing a new "outside" venture,

There's no question that Cain provided a lot of fun for awhile during this campaign season — if you describe as "fun" the fact that a man who had absolutely no business running for the most powerful job on planet Earth was winning the support of a national party desperate for something new and different.

And we have Florida to blame — or credit — for that.

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