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Herman Cain: Is he in over his head?

Herman Cain’s beaming face graces the cover of the latest Newsweek, celebrated for his unlikely rise in the GOP presidential sweepstakes. But Mr. Cain may not be feeling so cheerful the day after the Las Vegas debate, where he faced a withering assault on his signature 9-9-9 tax plan.

And right after Tuesday’s debate, Cain was forced to admit to host Anderson Cooper of CNN that he had misspoken in an earlier interview about being willing to release all the prisoners from Guantánamo Bay prison camp in a hypothetical deal with Al Qaeda.

Cain is a novice politician. That hasn’t prevented him from rising in the polls to a virtual tie with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for Republican front-runner. In fact, at a time of disgust with politicians and Washington, Cain’s nonpolitical background is a plus with many voters.

But there are times when a lack of experience shows, and he may have a hard time solidifying his new standing as a top-tier candidate. Surely, Cain anticipated criticism of his 9-9-9 plan during the debate, but he struggled to beat back the attacks on his idea.

Mr. Cooper noted that prominent conservatives have said the plan would raise taxes on middle-class and lower-income voters. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania asserted that 84 percent of Americans would pay higher taxes under 9-9-9. The plan would replace all current federal taxes with a 9 percent business tax, 9 percent personal income tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax.

Cain dismissed the critiques as “simply not true,” without providing much detail, and then suggested people read the campaign-approved analysis by the firm Fiscal Associates at his website, HermanCain.com.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said the plan effectively institutes a value-added tax, which taxes every stage of production and is dangerous because it’s “hidden,” she says. Texas Rep. Ron Paul complained that the 9-9-9 plan raises revenues and is “regressive.” Other candidates went after the implications of a new federal sales tax.

“Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something: You don’t have to have a big analysis to figure this thing out,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Go to New Hampshire, where they don’t have a sales tax, and you’re fixin’ to give ‘em one.”

Governor Perry also pointed out that in Nevada, which already has a state sales tax, residents would be paying an additional 9 percent on purchases. Mr. Romney jumped on the same point. Cain complained both men were mixing up their fruits.

“The state tax is an apple,” Cain said. “We are replacing the current tax code with oranges. So it’s not correct to mix apples and oranges.”

Some debate viewers may well have come away agreeing with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s assessment. He praised Cain for having the courage to propose a “very big idea,” but concluded that “there are much more complexities than Herman lets on.”

Foreign policy has been a particular Achilles’ heel for Cain. Before the Tuesday debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cain if he would trade all the prisoners in the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in a theoretical deal with Al Qaeda to release a US soldier.

Cain’s answer: “I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer, but what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options, and then, the president has to make a judgment call.”

During the debate, Mr. Cooper brought up that statement, and Cain said he would have a policy of no negotiation with terrorists. He added that he did not recall being asked about such a negotiation with Al Qaeda. Cooper pointed out that that was in fact the case.

After the debate, Cain said he mixed up the hypothetical case Mr. Blitzer had presented with the real example from earlier Tuesday, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“Here is how I was misspeaking about our situation,” Cain told Cooper. “I said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a lot of things to consider in order to make that decision. What I’m saying is I can’t say he did the right thing or the wrong thing just based on the numbers. That is the point I was trying to make. I probably misspoke when I went from that situation over to this situation. You got to have all the facts.”

It remains to be seen how Cain will fare in polls going forward. But for now, his fans are legion. On Tuesday, a new “super political-action committee” called the 999 PAC announced its debut. It is organized by Republican strategist Jordan Gehrke and plans to hire staff to help Cain in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan, Arizona, and Florida.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/20/2011 - 07:54 am.

    Barack Obama: Is he in over his head?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/20/2011 - 09:42 am.

    Odd that we are wondering if a man that runs a successful national business is in over his head, after having elected a smooth talking neighborhood community organizer as our POTUS.

    Given the fact that some 40% of us pay $0 federal income tax it seems inevitable, and desireable that taxes are more evenly distributed.

    9,9,9 may not be the right formula, but the idea of a simple flat tax is the right one for this country at this time. And those that mock Cain’s model as simplistic while standing on top of a 70,000 page tax code should take a good look in the mirror.

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 10/20/2011 - 05:24 pm.

    Well, it didn’t take long for the righties to show up claiming Obama is inexperienced.

    Even if there was a case to be made for that in 2008, it no longer applies. There is no training like OJT, and whatever experience Obama once lacked, he now has in spades. If the GOP nominate Cain, they forfeit any claim to talk about experience.

    Especially so if they attempt to claim that running a pizza chain that makes bad pizza is anything like running the United States government. They love to claim that government should be run like business, but that is the patently absurd position of someone who does not understand the first thing about government. Here’s Hint #1 – the merger of corporate and government powers is called “fascism” – or the Mafia.

    Obama has actually been fairly effective in accomplishing much of his agenda, despite the Republican “No to Everything” embargo. His one big failure as president thus far is that, rather than stocking his cabinet with Wallstreeters – the 1%’ers, he should have prosecuted them and thrown a goodly number in jail. Despite this failure, and considering the gaggle of Repub aspirants for his job, he will be re-elected (unless Europe implodes during the next year, in which case the future is likely to take a form that does not at all resemble the past).

    I do agree, though, that the tax code needs to be reformed. The complexity can be eliminated without making taxation regressive simply by settling on 3 or 4 or 5 brackets while eliminating all loopholes and deductions. It probably won’t happen since it would put a lot of tax attorneys and accountants out of business, and further stress the housing industry. We note that thus far the congressional “supercommittee” has been able to agree on precisely nothing, while theirs ought to be a simpler task than reforming the tax code.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/20/2011 - 08:51 pm.

    “whatever experience Obama once lacked, he now has in spades. If the GOP nominate Cain, they forfeit any claim to talk about experience.”

    Nonsense. If you can advocate electing a man who had never even run a lemonaide stand to run the nation’s economy, then you can’t say that a man with 45 years of business management experience is not qualified to be president.

    The only experience that Obama has is in taking a bad situation and making it worse. In spades.

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