Conservative talk radio luminaries such as Rush Limbaugh were crucial in building the support for Herman Cain’s leap to the top of polls for Republican presidential candidates. Now that some serious missteps have sent the businessman’s poll numbers back down to earth, the fate of Cain’s White House bid may well rest with those same talk radio kingpins, Politico reports.
The irony of that dynamic is rich, given that Cain’s own star turn as an Atlanta radio talk show host helped launch his political career. The risk isn’t so much that the titan talkers will verbally bash Cain, but rather that they’ll ignore him, which would likely lead voters to do the same.
“If they don’t talk about you, it’s like you don’t exist,” an adviser to another Republican 2012 presidential campaign told Politico. “It’s not that they don’t like Herman, it’s not that they won’t defend him, it’s that they’ll just decide at some point that he’s irrelevant. And that’s a form of slow death.”
So far, the combination of Cain’s conservative views and talk radio style has resonated with the Republican rank and file. “Herman Cain is not just a talk radio guy, he’s a talk radio and a tea party guy, which is definitely helping him defy the laws of political gravity,” veteran conservative activist and former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, told Politico. “The mainstream media doesn’t really get it. He connects with a core audience in this party.”
The talk radio kingpins relate to Cain’s disdain for the Washington establishment and details of governance. Limbaugh and Mark Levin have defended Cain through his troubles with sexual harassment allegations and dealing with policy-related questions from the media.
Limbaugh called reports of the sexual harassment allegations against Cain an “unconscionably racially charged attack.” After a video of Cain struggling to answer a simple question about Libya policy went viral, Limbaugh termed it “just the latest hit piece.”
To be sure, Limbaugh is defending all the candidates now except Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, notes author Zev Chafets. “If you see Rush stop defending him [Cain], then you’ll see him fall,” a senior GOP operative told Politico.
As for Levin, he went after Cain accuser Sharon Bialek on his show. Levin asked, “if you think the guy [Cain] was hitting on you, . . . why would you go out to have an Italian dinner” with him?
But one talk radio star has started giving Cain the business – Laura Ingraham. She defended Cain on the sexual harassment charges. But after Cain’s gaffes on Libya and other policy issues, she has begun to question his fitness for the presidency.
While playing the audio of Cain’s Libya comments this week, she interjected with resigned “oy”s and “wow”s.
“What happens when Godfather’s Pizza doesn’t deliver? You get Newt Gingrich in 30 minutes or less,” she said. “It is not good for conservatives to make excuses for people even if they have been unfairly maligned on other issues.”
The fact that most conservative radio talkers have stayed on Cain’s side helps explain why he hasn’t plunged in the polls like Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. Cain has dropped from about 30 percent to the teens.
“Talk radio is still a very important factor in the Republican party,” long-time GOP pollster David Winston told Politico. “It’s probably cushioned his fall.”
Cain’s own background in talk radio is a double-edged sword. What plays well over the airwaves doesn’t necessarily translate in a political campaign.
“Cain has to learn that when you want to be president of the United States, and you step out of the hyperbolic entertainment world of talk radio and enter the world of presenting yourself to the American public to be president, you have to be careful not to use certain terms that on radio, as entertainment, are acceptable,” Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, a publication about talk radio, told Politico. He was referring to Cain calling House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “Princess Nancy.”
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