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Frank Luntz' Focus Group: Cain Won | Main | Timeline For The Various Official Versions of the bin Ladin Kill Story
May 06, 2011

Oh, Here Are Two Possible Reasons Herman Cain Might Have Had A Good Night

My first guess was the black thing, which is dismissive and condescending and I shouldn't have written it. It was me adding my own Narrative -- I didn't understand what Cain had said that was so terrific that a focus group thought he'd scored a decisive win, so I made up some stupid, easy, glib explanation for it, based on race.

Just like the media does. The Narrative, it's addictive. Because it's easy. It's easy and glib and you can explain the hard-to-explain with a single dumb sentence. It may be dumb, but at least it's short.

But now that I reflect, he did stand out in two key areas.

First of all, he supports the Flat Tax. This was one of the issues Huckabee seized on in 2008 to stand out from the crowd, and apparently it helped.

Are Republicans really ga-ga for the Flat Tax? I don't know. Certainly they're interested. And certainly they don't like the IRS.

Correction: Cain supports the Fair Tax, not the Flat Tax.

But my point about Huckabee still stands, because I also got that wrong -- Huckabee also supported the Fair Tax, not the Flat Tax.

This is the genius of me: I make so many errors and mistakes that they support each other in a logical, consistent framework in which, in their combined double-negative wrongness, they wind up being sort of right.

Thanks to Jane D'oh for pointing that out.


The other possibility is his answer about Afghanistan, which some are taking as a flub. But maybe people reacted more strongly to it than the pundits imagine.

[I]t was Cain's answer on a straightforward if not simple question -- what would you have the United States do in Afghanistan? -- that created the most head-scratching moment of the night.

It started when moderator Bret Baier asked Cain about a statement Cain made in an interview in January in which Cain said that as president he would rely heavily on whatever his generals and the experts told him should be done in the war. "You're running for president," Baier said to Cain. "After almost ten years in Afghanistan, you don't have your own plan yet about what you would do in Afghanistan?"

"No," Cain answered. 'Because it's not clear what the mission is. That's the bigger problem. It's not clear what the mission is"

Baier followed up: "How would you define winning in Afghanistan right now, as you're looking at it as a candidate?"

"My point is," Cain explained, "the experts and their advice and their input would be the basis for me making that decision. I'm not privy to a lot of confidential information."

It was an unusual way of approaching the question, to say the least. Was Cain saying that he couldn't answer any questions about foreign policy, because he didn't have the kind of classified information that only presidents have? When Cain met with reporters after the debate, he explained that he approached Afghanistan like he would a business decision. "A good businessman does not make a decision without considering all of the facts," he said. "I haven't been privy to all of the confidential information to make that decision."

But if Cain could only formulate a policy position after receiving presidential-level briefings -- did that mean he might never have a position as a candidate on Afghanistan? "That's probably the case," Cain said. Perhaps sensing that might be a problem down the road, he then explained that he might be able to put together "some sort of strategic approach" from publicly-available information. "What I'm saying is I will not be pushed into spitting out a plan so people can say, this is his plan."

Did he flub it? Or did he flub it like a fox?

Here is my best guess for the overall sentiment about the War in Afghanistan among conservatives: We, as a group, are conflicted.

First, we bought into Bush's Liberty Agenda and are perhaps not ready to fully repudiate that as a fool's errand.

Second, we are pro-military generally and do not wish to undercut the troops in the field.

Third, we are pro-Victory generally and are loathe to "cut and run," as we call it, at least when it's proposed by a liberal who seems to have the Leftist interest, rather than the National interest, at heart.

But for all that, I think conservatives are conflicted, and are moving closer to Ann Coulter's position -- that Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is unreformable and unimprovable, and our we should not be risking our troops for an impossible goal like creating a decent Afghanistan. Perhaps a decent Afghanistan is strictly impossible; maybe it's possible, but at such a high cost as to preclude any eagerness to pay it.

And so, perhaps, Cain's answer, noncommittal, vague, conflicted, and weak, actually strikes many conservatives as hitting the right tone.

It is my belief that there is a large part of the party that wants to be convinced to abandon Afghanistan. They are not convinced now, but conflicted, and want to be convinced one way or the other; and they probably would rather be convinced to let Afghanistan go its own tragic, bloody, rape-filled way.

Four years ago a candidate expressing anything less than unshakable, Bush-like resolve on Afghanistan would not have had much of a chance to gain traction in the party. But this is four years later, and it's my hunch that when the conservative movement committed to the Long War in Afghanistan, "long war" meant "Not much more than ten years. That's plenty long."

So it could be that Cain, by failing to commit to a Victory/Bush-like strategy in Afghanistan, actually hit more possible voters in terms of actual sentiment.

digg this
posted by Ace at 11:24 AM

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