It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Herman Cain.
His improbable run for the GOP presidential nomination should have served to burnish his CEO credentials, sell his books and enhance the fee the Baptist lay minister charges for motivational speeches and appearances.
This fall, the simplicity of Cain’s 9-9-9 tax-reform plan propelled him to the top of a volatile field. Soon other candidates were rushing to introduce their own versions of a flat tax.
With a folksiness that won over voters, Cain joked that his Secret Service name was “Cornbread” and said that the measure of a man is how many toppings he has on his pizza.
The former food industry executive also quipped that, unlike other Republican hopefuls whose candidacies rose in the polls only to plummet weeks later, he was not a flavor of the month, but Haagen-Dazs black walnut, which “tastes good all the time.” (Unfortunately for Cain, it turned out the ice cream was a limited edition.)
Indeed, the charismatic Cain, with his compelling only-in-America success story, rose too far, too fast. And on Saturday, dogged by allegations that he cheated on his wife of 43 years and sexually harassed other women, a still-defiant Cain left the race.
“Running for president was Plan A,” he told supporters outside his new campaign headquarters in Atlanta. “And before you get discouraged, today I want to describe Plan B.”
Plan B involves his new website, TheCainSolutions.com, which he said would promote his policy ideas, including his 9-9-9 plan.
A Rapid Rise And Sudden Fall
Cain, the only black GOP presidential candidate, leaves behind a dizzying campaign that made him a household name, but, in the end, for all the wrong reasons.
Hobbled by an amateur campaign operation and his own tenuous grasp of issues critical to America, Cain was also unprepared for the unrelenting scrutiny that comes with the territory of being a modern presidential candidate.
Wrapped in hubris common in the business of big business and politics, Cain dismissed the harassment and extramarital affair allegations as either the lies of “troubled” women, or part of a conspiracy hatched by Democrats determined to deprive him of the Republican nomination.
His campaign also, at one time, blamed fellow GOP candidate Rick Perry’s campaign for leaking the harassment charges, and has suggested that “the establishment” doesn’t like his unconventional politics.
After revelations that two women settled sexual harassment claims against Cain when he led the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, his supporters released an ad that referred to the allegations as a “high tech lynching.”
It was the same language used by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he faced sexual harassment allegations of his own during his high court confirmation hearing.
“My star was shining and rising too fast,” Cain said this week in a Fox News interview after Ginger White of Atlanta claimed a 13-year affair with him. “They wanted to take some of that shine off.”
But the shine had already begun to dull. Cain in recent weeks had already tumbled out of his briefly held position in the top tier of GOP candidates after the harassment allegations and stumbling performances in debates and interviews. Members of his own party had begun to suggest he had become a distraction.
“He probably needs to understand that he is a distracter for what’s going on right now and we should move on,” Congressman Allen West, a Florida Republican, said during an interview on Wednesday on conservative WMAL radio in Washington.
Cain said Saturday he was at peace with his God and with his wife.
“And she is at peace with me,” he said. “And I am at peace with my family and I am at peace with myself.”
The Final Days
Cain, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, however, would not go out quietly.
In a last-ditch effort to rewrite his final act, Cain on Friday announced the formation of a “Women for Herman Cain” organization, ostensibly chaired by his wife, Gloria. The campaign also said it planned to open Cain’s Georgia headquarters on Saturday.
It all felt like a desperate end, and it was.
Late-night comedians no doubt will mourn a campaign that Politico characterized as a “study in ineptitude.” Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central show issued a plea to Cain last week.
“Don’t leave me with him!” Colbert said, pointing to a picture of GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
The Tennessee native’s White House bid never seemed destined to end with him being crowned the presidential nominee at the party’s September convention in Florida.
He’d dipped his toe in presidential politics in 2000. In Georgia, four years later, he was an unsuccessful primary candidate for a U.S. Senate seat.
In this presidential bid, his campaign staff included Mark Block, whose now-infamous “smoking ad” bewildered much of the political world, and J.D. Gordon, who as a Defense Department spokesman once accused a female reporter of sexual harassment.
But his ad hoc campaign did, however briefly, captivate at least a segment of the party’s conservative base for at least as long as it took to answer a pollster’s question in October.
Cain, who has an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and a master’s degree from Purdue University, leaves diminished.
Instead of parlaying his charm, catchy 9-9-9 tax reform plan, and life story (“I was ‘po before I was poor,” Cain, now worth millions, likes to say) into a national presence or Cabinet position — if not the presidency — his legacy is something else altogether.
During a long-scheduled appearance at the National Press Club shortly after the harassment allegations surfaced, Cain closed with a gospel song. “He looked beyond all my faults,” he sang, “and saw my needs.” Unfortunately for Cain, the electorate is not quite so forgiving.