Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, Baptist minister, and Atlanta radio host, continued to gain momentum this week in the Republican primary race.
National polls from Fox News and CBS/New York Times show that Cain is leading Mitt Romney 24 to 20 percent, and 25 to 21 percent, respectively. And according to a new CNN/Time poll, Cain is runner-up to Romney in the first four primary states.
Yet despite Cain’s epic surge and steady support, political pundits, media elites, and even Sarah Palin have all definitively declared that Cain is not a serious contender, and that his 15 minutes of fame will soon be over. Many are quick to dismiss him as a national joke, a fluke, or the latest quirky tea party candidate.
But Cain’s critics underestimate how far authenticity — a lost trait in today’s politicians — will take a candidate in 2012. Now more than ever, politics is theater and there’s no shortage of performances, put-ons, and puffery on Capitol Hill.
Cain stands apart from the rest. He not only has executive-level business expertise and bold ideas to jump-start the economy, but he is genuine. Voters are won over by Cain’s straight talk and sincerity.
And speaking of sincerity, Conservatives have long thought President Barack Obama lacks this quality. Lately many on the left have reached the same conclusion. In 2008, Obama was firmly opposed to the Iraq war. He captured the anti-war vote and was elected as the peace president.
Fast forward three years and Obama is fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Uganda. He has not only expanded wars — putting 33,000 additional troops in Afghanistan — but he’s also waged a non-war war in Libya without ever bothering to get congressional approval.
Much like Obama, George W. Bush also abandoned stated policies once actually in office. Many Republicans expected that Bush would cut bureaucratic red tape during his tenure since their party is the one opposed to excessive and burdensome regulations.
But according to the Heritage Foundation, the number and cost of federal regulations, by every measure, actually increased under Bush. Notably, Bush gave us No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.
Americans are tired of the insincerity and have formed a strong aversion to Washington insiders. According to this week’s CBS/New York Times poll, nearly 90 percent of Americans say they trust the government only “some of the time” or “never.”
We don’t expect politicians to keep every campaign promise, but we’re fed up with those who’ll say anything to win, and those who frequently adjust their talking points after consulting public opinion polls.
Romney, whose support among GOP voters is stuck around 25 percent, is guilty of this. He has a slick campaign, plenty of cash and flashy endorsements. But Romney — who was for universal healthcare, abortion, and gay rights before he was against them — seems as authentic as a Louis Vuitton satchel purchased on the corner of Canal and Broadway.
It all comes down to this: Both front-runners, Cain and Romney, promise to drastically alter the direction of the country — but the question for most GOP voters is who will fulfill his promise?
To come up with an answer, we each conduct our own private lie-detector test on the candidates, and try to spot the phony. We examine their statements, judge their body language, and investigate their background. Romney fails this test, and Cain passes.
This explains Cain’s front-runner status despite limited funds. In the latest quarter, Romney raised $14 million while Cain raised $2.8 million. And Cain’s success is even more astonishing when you consider that he has only six paid staff members in the early caucus states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Certainly, Cain’s private-sector experience is also contributing to his popularity. The 2012 election will hinge on the economy and whom voters think can best turn it around. Americans have thus far been receptive to Cain’s bold, simple message about taxes, the economy and job creation.
It’s true that up to now, the anti-Romney candidate hasn't had a long shelf life — we’ve seen Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann rise to the top of the GOP field only to fall back down. But we cannot count Cain out yet.
The vast majority of Republican primary voters are undecided about which candidate they will support and so the race is wide open.
Cain’s support remains strong because authenticity is as important as ideology for many voters. Critics want Cain’s 15 minutes to be over, but he’s an hour into it and still going strong.
Mahsa Saeidi-Azcué is a Fox News and MSNBC commentator, and a former assistant district attorney from Brooklyn, N.Y.
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