On Saturday afternoon, Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign. He attributed his exit to the impact that “false and unproven” accusations had on his family, campaign donations, and ability to keep the focus on the issues.
The Cain campaign clearly had some weaknesses — Cain’s lack of depth on foreign policy issues and some notable gaffes, Mark Block’s blame-game missteps, and what appeared to be an overall lack of commitment — with the exception of his 9-9-9 Plan — to trading in ambiguity for specificity.
However, Cain also possessed a number of unique strengths — his solid record of achievement in the business community, an ability to excite the base via speeches and public appearances, a willingness to put forth a bold economic plan that brought the issue of tax reform front and center in the debates, and his capacity to resonate with voters via a regular, down-to-earth, “I’m just like you” delivery.
It is no small achievement for a man with very little political experience to soar to the top of the polls and develop a devoted following. Cain was also able to attract many former Sarah Palin supporters who found themselves somewhat lost when Palin decided against a run, as well as to engage plenty of voters disheartened with the political establishment who were seeking something different this time around.
In a pack of seasoned politicians, Herman Cain managed to really stand out. And that accomplishment shouldn’t be ignored.
There are some key lessons to be learned from Cain’s participation in the race.
Specificity matters. If you are running for the highest office in the land, voters will rightfully expect you to have done your homework and be able to articulate domestic and foreign policy solutions in a way that inspires confidence. If you are new to the scene and aren’t staying up nights trying to become an expert on anything and everything your mind can absorb, it will show.
Americans are more impressed with practical experience than political experience. Voters know the name of the political game — an endless revolving door of back-scratching, a lack of commitment to principle, and being out of touch with both the struggles of everyday Americans and the commonsense solutions that would alleviate those struggles. That doesn’t go for all politicians, but it certainly goes for most. If you are more business-savvy than politics-savvy, that just might be a good thing.
Don’t be afraid to talk like a regular person. Trade in the talking points for a conversation with voters. Lose the pre-rehearsed pauses and expressions. If you are afraid to just be yourself, it will show, and voters will wonder why.
Substitute confidence for arrogance. It is good to be confident in your policy, experience, solutions, and ability to win. If you have faith in yourself, Americans just might place their faith in you too. However, remember who you are running against. Barack Obama’s arrogance is his biggest delivery weakness. Be his contrast. Talk with voters, not at them.
Herman Cain’s future role in politics remains to be seen. Count me among those who are glad he threw his hat into the ring. He made some mistakes — no doubt — but he also made plenty of voters contemplate the issues, the system, and their own personal set of standards for politicians in a way they hadn’t done before.
Whether you planned to vote for him or not, Cain definitely shook up the 2012 race. I, for one, can certainly appreciate the value of that.
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