He’s been called the GOP flavor of the week (in response to which he tells reporters to call him “Haagen-Dazs Black Walnut” because “it tastes good all the time”).
But Herman Cain’s meteoric rise shows no sign of slowing down. According to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Cain now leads the Republican field with 27 percent support, followed by Mitt Romney at 23 percent, and Rick Perry at 16 percent.
The poll found Cain was viewed positively by 52 percent of Republican voters and negatively by an incredibly low 6 percent. Among Tea Party supporters, his positive/negative rating was 69 percent to 5 percent. In follow-up interviews, voters said they liked Cain’s direct manner and the fact that he’s not a politician.
Cain’s ultra-low negative ratings almost certainly reflect the fact that most voters still don’t know much about him. His rise has happened so quickly (back in August, he was at just 5 percent support) that the klieg lights haven’t really been on him. As a point of comparison: Michele Bachmann’s negative rating among Republican voters stood at 8 percent back in April; today, it’s at 27.
So are the days of Cain skating by without scrutiny coming to an end?
Well, maybe. At Tuesday night’s debate, it seemed like nearly every candidate lobbed a grenade at Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan at one point or another. (Most biting attack of the night: Rick Santorum, asking the audience, “how many people here want to pay a sales tax in New Hampshire? There you go, Herman. That’s how many votes you’ll get in New Hampshire.”)
On the other hand, Decoder has been amazed at how much Cain is still getting away with. At that same debate, Cain credited his economic plan to unnamed “secret” advisors, and said that he had already lined up potential appointees to the Federal Reserve, whom he also couldn’t name. Um – seriously? Does anyone think that if Romney or Perry had said anything remotely like that that the press (or other candidates) would have let it slide?
While Perry has been dogged for days for his refusal to publicly condemn remarks by pastor Robert Jeffress calling Mormonism a cult (made while introducing Perry at the Values Voters Summit), and for a plaque on a family hunting camp that had a painted-over racial slur, Cain has essentially gone unchallenged over a whole host of controversial statements on the very same issues of race and religion.
Accusing liberal Democrats of being “racist” and of questioning why he, as a black man, would choose a conservative political ideology.
Saying black voters have been “brainwashed” into supporting Democrats.
Saying he would not appoint a Muslim to serve in his administration.
And making weird, near-paranoid claims about Sharia law infiltrating the US legal system.
Why is Cain not coming under serious fire for any of this? One theory: His opponents – and the media – still don’t take him all that seriously, because no one really thinks he will win the GOP nomination. If he continues to lead in polls going forward, this may change, but even now, Cain’s schedule has him on a book tour and barely touching down in early primary states.
Romney in particular has a motive for keeping Cain around – since Cain, as a Tea Party favorite, clearly takes more votes away from Perry than Romney.
And even for Perry, attacking Cain is risky. Going directly after a highly popular black Republican could drive up Perry’s negatives (and of course, Perry’s already having to deal with racial sensitivity issues). And ironically, despite the current poll numbers, it could come across as Perry punching down (or looking desperate), since Perry still has the more realistic path to the nomination.