Right now, it’s easy to see why all political buzz is businessman and pizza icon Herman Cain. His climb in the polls has been short of meteoric and legendary in recent weeks. It’s a fascinating story in that Cain can’t be written off like Iowa straw poll runner-up Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) – nor can he be taken as seriously as either big machine candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Still, bursting the Cain bubble, prognosticators have an irritating habit of picking early winners and unfortunate losers. And, predictions point to Romney taking it all.
Even Cain acknowledges it with little hesitation in a recent National Journal interview: “I would not say no to being vice president of the United States. But it would depend upon who got the nomination. I will support who gets the nomination. I know I have said that there are some people right now who I cannot support, but I wouldn’t say no to it. I could say yes. But it has to be someone who I believe I can complement them in their job by being able to bring my skills to the table.”
If the sudden political star and straw poll barnstormer was that convinced that he would be the next Republican nominee for the 2012 Presidential election, he wouldn’t be saying that. Ego plays a significant role in the decision to run for President – it continues to mold the race from the announcement phase, engorges itself during the campaign phase and finds its biggest test on election day.
During his well-orchestrated press conference to announce, among other things, that he wasn’t going to announce, heavyweight political lover across the Franklin Bridge Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) kept it straight with little chaser on the question of ego: “The fact is, I don’t think there’s anybody in America who would necessarily think my personality is best-suited to being No. 2.”
But, while the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO continues to surge in polls and in notoriety, many insiders are convinced that Cain is merely posturing for the No. 2 spot. Signs point to a growing resignation within the Republican Party that its establishment bosses are beginning the process of winnowing down the very crowded field and paving a clear path for Romney.
Signs of a political attrition game reaching its final days are abundant. While Cain was tying second place with Perry at 16% in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll and then zipping ahead to 36% in first place in a subsequent ABC News poll, his Communications Director Ellen Carmichael was making an exit.
“I have resigned, but the paperwork’s not final,” Carmichael told CNN early last week, packing up her bags and taking assistant Francis Boustany along with her.
It raised few red flags regarding Cain since he was drowning in poll time adulation. But, to observers there were questions: why leave now when your candidate is now flavor of the primary month? Did something happen? Did Cain do or say something? Carmichael had played the critical role in Cain’s emergence as an overnight party sensation.
“We’ve had ups and downs. We’ve had tons of money and very little money,” said Carmichael. “And I’ve stuck through some very difficult and some very rewarding times on the campaign. And it was just time for me to go pursue other professional opportunities.”
The money is on the money. Many longtime party insiders, speaking on background, point to the start of a trend where Republican gurus will pluck candidate staffers away from key positions in their campaigns, enticing them with cushy job offers to work for the party or affiliate firms. Others may pop up during convention time as key operatives putting final touches on a general campaign roll out.
“The party saw Cain as being an issue, someone who didn’t have much to lose politically and could have staying power against a presumptive nominee like Romney,” says one GOP party official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other candidates are also running into either trouble or a bad case of irrelevance. Paul has continued to watch his numbers go flat below 8% since nearly edging out Tea Party queen Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) in the Iowa straw poll. According to the Real Clear Politics polling averages, former Keystone State son Sen. Rick Santorum can’t seem to break through 4%. And while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is flirting with 10%, it’s nothing compared to Herman Cain who has seen a 12% increase since September.
And the big political burnout of the season is Bachmann, the one hit Iowa wonder who now teeters on the brink of full implosion. She lost her campaign manager and top gun legendary strategist Ed Rollins (who ran Ronald Reagan campaigns of lore and graced CNN with his expert analysis) in September. Since then, she’s been hassled by vendors blowing up the phone for payment and a long string of resignations, from her pollster to her senior adviser.
Part of the problem is Bachmann’s notorious reputation for being afraid to fundraise. In keeping it grassroots, the Minnesota Congresswoman has relied on the small donor give-me-what-you-got strategy, a move that has found her nearly a half-million dollars in debt.
But, the other side of the story is that the party establishment could be rallying around its chosen one. This is already playing itself out as states like Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina jockey for first place primary positioning. The three first states, according to polls, appear as Romney strongholds – hence, all the more reason to make sure he kicks off strong against opposition at the start of the primaries. The Romney campaign is already fending off recent reports that they forced Nevada Republicans to push their primary date up to January 14th.
With major GOP operatives like Karl Rove and the Bush political family having personal axes to grind with Perry, forces of political nature in the Republican Party are pushing someone not as unpredictable, gaffe-prone and irascible. Romney fits that bill.