So Herman Cain thumped Rick Perry in the Florida straw poll where they both competed. This has been such a weird early period in the Republican nomination contest. You’ve had a handful of Republican candidates surging an then falling back. Cain surged after the first Republican debate but then cratered after fumbling answers related to Muslims serving in his administration, the power of localities to prevent the building of mosques (and giving dissembling follow ups), whether Israel should grant the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” and general unsteadiness whenever he was pushed off script in the next handful of debates. Bachmann then became the main alternative to Romney but Perry stole her constituency when he got in. Then Perry stumbled after being the main target of criticism from his rivals, his unsteady debate performance last week and with authenticity problems related to various immigration issues. Now we have Cain again who has regained momentum thanks to his 9-9-9 tax plan and (to a lesser extent) his powerful anecdote about how he would not have survived cancer if Obamacare had been in force in 2006. Through it all, you have Romney just plugging along, choosing his words very carefully, avoiding mistakes and courageous stands and letting all the other candidates sprint forward and burn out. Some thoughts,
1. The Florida straw poll vote is best described as a vote of no confidence in the two front running governors, rather than an indication that Cain has a serious chance of winning the nomination. This would seem to indicate there is a Chris Christie-sized space for another candidate to enter the race. Maybe. Perry’s decline is both competence and authenticity-related. The competence problem was his general bad performance in the debate. The authenticity problem was (primarily) related to Perry’s answers on the border fence and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. A late entering Chris Christie would face the same national issues learning curve that Perry is facing. Maybe Christie would do a lot better. Christie would face authenticity-related problems based on his stands on gun control and global warming. There is a hunger for another candidate on the center-right, but it is married to a hunger for a candidate that has fully bought into the predominant “conservative” position on just about every issue. Christie isn’t that candidate. Politicians who basically satisfy both those hungers exist (Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell), but none of them are looking at all likely to run for President.
2. But we could use a candidate who could articulate the need for a responsible fiscal consolidation. That was what Mitch Daniels was saying on CNN this afternoon and I think he was right. It is pretty clear that none of the current candidates are doing any such thing. Romney is trying to give the other candidates and President Obama as little as possible to attack. Also, who is confident that Romney will stick with a controversial program of fiscal consolidation when the going gets tough? Perry combines big talking (and to persuadables scary sounding) attitudinizing with little substance on entitlement reforms. Christie could be the serious, blunt, articulate, common sense, humane, fiscal consolidation candidate. I’m not sure I like his chances, but I would support him over the current crew.
3. I’m trying to see how Cain’s 9-9-9 plan doesn’t add up to a tax increase for workers in the lower half of the income distribution. It is complicated since the repeal of payroll taxes (including the employer’s share) would probably tend to increase worker wages, but the combination of the sales tax and the virtually deduction-free flat income tax would more than make up the difference (I think.) The plan would also be a large tax cut for high earners. Now that Cain is going get more media attention as a serious candidate, we might also get a serious analysis (by people who can do the math) of the revenue and distributional impact of his 9-9-9 plan compared to the current tax code.
4. I’m begging for someone to explain to me why the following critique of Cain’s Obamacare and cancer anecdote is wrong:
Cain argued that if Obamacare had been in effect in 2006, he wouldn’t have gotten the timely treatment that saved his life because he would have had to use the timetable of government bureaucrats. Cain was 60-61 during the period that he describes in 2006 when he was diagnosed with and treated for cancer. Cain presumably financed his treatment through a combination of health insurance and out of pocket payments. Obamacare was enacted in 2010. Does he think that, under Obamacare’s current provisions, a holder of private health insurance or someone able to self-finance their care has to get government permission before they can get a CT scan and chemotherapy? You could argue that IPAB would deny or fatally delay treatment, but IPAB is currently for Medicare and Cain wasn’t a Medicare recipient. You could argue that Obamacare will, over years introduce changes that will push the government to enact a new law that will force just about everyone into a government-run and heavily rationed health care program. I guess you could argue that the expansion of coverage under Obamacare would lead to greater health care consumption and produce shortages and increased wait times (though of chemotherapy and cancer surgery?). But those weren’t the arguments Cain made. If Cain ever got to the general election, the President would throw the problems with Cain’s argument back in Cain’s face.
Update: I see William Kristol has some of the same thoughts.