The supposedly portentous Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses are about two months away at this point, and the news is saying it could be anybody's game.
Nope. We are about to see the (finally) ending of Herman Cain's campaign. That's the good news. The bad news is, it looks like Rick Perry is going to get it, and the momentum to become the R nominee for President.
Perry was saying earlier this week that he was going to skip the remaining R debates. This actually is a smart move by him. It isn't because of his performance at the debates (although, in my opinion, it doesn't help). People have been starting to burn out. There haven't been this many party debates with this intense scrutiny before. Whereas initially people were excited, the novelty is wearing off, and only political heads like me are still watching. In theory, Perry could skip these debates and it won't make much difference.
But all it took was his opponents saying it made him look chicken and now he'll participate in some more. Don't know how many more, but the fact that he was willing to coast says he doesn't think the other candidates are much of a problem anymore. Romney is no longer front page news, and he was the only obstacle in Perry's way. Perry better be practicing his debates, because between his flustering at debates and the Texas culture, he's got an uphill battle against Obama.
Obama just needs to paint Perry as an intolerant racist bigot and he wins. Things like the name of the hunting ground Perry went to make that easy. An easy tactic for politics is to make the conflict generational. This is actually a recent tactic that requires modern technology to work. Before, because of distant news and impersonal imagery, people could not project themselves onto candidates in anything but general terms. Kennedy showed the way, however. Good looking and young, he came along during the baby boom generation. This is important. The post-war kids, thanks to people like Doctor Spock and parents looking to enjoy post-war prosperity, had a level of independence none of the previous generations had. They were able to get jobs, get cars, and enjoy their own entertainment at their whim. A lot of your B-movies from the time appealed directly to the new teenage mentality. Grown-ups didn't get the appeal of movies like Teenagers From Outer Space or music like rock and roll, and that was just fine with the Boomers -- every generation likes to think they are separate and more worldly, more diverse, and somehow better than the previous one. Their numbers were enough that they helped Kennedy vault past the established traditions and they could celebrate one of their own taking the office of the most powerful man in the world. Basically? It was class president writ large.
This fell by the wayside after the Kennedy assassination, but a new front in pop culture opened up. With the counterculture getting on TV, satirical shows took off. Gerald Ford was not a clumsy President, but the fact that no one had seen a President reduced to human behavior and the countercultural impact of Saturday Night Live (back when it actually was edgy and funny) forever branded him as an incompetent klutz. Reagan's culture impact had an obvious origin -- he was an actor. With politics morphing into show business, he came along at just the right time. Bill Clinton came long and married "I'm younger than those stodgy business as usual" types with show biz (playing his saxophone with the band on The Arsenio Hall Show), and the new paradigm was set.
Obama ran for President, and with the help of Howard Dean, who was doing really well with bringing in the younger generation until his "victory yell" made the news, went up against old guy (read that -- "one of THEM") McCain. Despite policies and actions that were counter to Shrub's philosophy, McCain was painted as a continuation of Shrub, something the R's didn't try very hard to fight until it was way too late. Obama just has to frame Perry as someone out of touch with modern times, and voters will have to vote for him just to keep their consciences clean. Perry's already trying to nullify this edge, with him openly condemning the Texas license plates with the Confederate flag on them. Perry wanted the nomination. He's about to see the bad that goes along with the good. He better practice hard.
Cain is an afterthought now. He has no chance. Cain is trying to present himself as a maverick who plays by his own rules. By keeping things vague, he's hoping people will project onto him what they want and that will carry him through (known among us heads as the Fred Thompson Gambit). Palin was doing quite well with it in the early months after the 2008 election, and everyone, including me, was expecting her to run for the nomination in 2012. But four years is a long time, and Palin's lack of skill with handling pressure from the news media spelled her doom. Cain is learning nothing from Thompson or Palin, as the "smoking man" campaign ad shows.
The smoking man campaign ad is the end for Cain. What makes me say that? Who the smoking man is. A lot of people know that it is Mark Block, Cain's campaign manager. But they don't know WHO he is. Block is a Republican strategist, Tea Partier, and was head of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans For Prosperity, an anti-tax group. Jared Thomas, who ran the Georgia chapter, complained to the Associated Press recently about how Block was forceful and didn't care who he pushed around to advance his agenda. Block was accused of coordinating a Wisconsin judge's campaign with a special interest group and voter suppression. To settle the charge, Block agreed not to run any Wisconsin political campaigns for three years (yeah. THAT'LL teach him). Block's home was nearly foreclosed, two drunk driving arrests, a lawsuit for an unpaid bill, and a tax warrant from the IRS. Block is a liability to Cain's campaign that has been slowly working his way to critical mass. Between Cain and his treatment of their campaign staffers and other R's making Cain a target to get him out of their little treehouse, if Cain starts swinging his momentum from his book tour to taking NH and Iowa, the whole thing will blow up. The press will make sure Cain is seen as sneakier and oilier than the current establishment politicians.
The press and the R's are relatively quiet about Block right now for one important reason -- he's a Judas goat. With everyone focusing on him, it keeps Romney and Perry from putting their feet in their mouths. They do something stupid? It isn't front page news, Cain's 9-9-9 plan is. Obama has to focus on Cain at the moment, even as Perry's first TV ad brags that he will create 2.1 million jobs (he points to his job creation in Texas. Do we really have to go through this again?). The press is also starting to turn on Obama, claiming that lobbyists are still getting access to him despite his campaign promises of no lobbyists. Anyone who really thought there would be no lobbying of Obama, I have a bridge to sell you.
The first primaries are about two months away. The pieces are coming together, and we'll finally see what the monster looks like.