The big story in the Republican race during the last 2 weeks has been the rise of Herman Cain to the point that he has become the front runner in the polls leaving Mitt Romney trailing again. The Democrats and their supporters in the media have derisively labeled Herman Cain the Republican "flavor of the month" that will melt away under the heat of scrutiny in the same way that Texas Governor Rick Perry seems to have shriveled up in terms of support. They particularly scoff at Cain's signature 9-9-9 flat income, corporate and sales-tax.
The Cain phenomenon may end as the skeptics predict or it may endure but it is still capable of providing us with a number of insights into the thinking of the Republican electorate.
Blacks have a future in the Republican Party. Despite attempts by Jimmy Carter and others to portray the opposition to Barack Obama as racially motivated the support for Herman Cain emanates at least temporarily from Rick Perry Tea Party voters. This is the Rick Perry that Liberals wanted to hang a racist albatross around his neck and around the necks of his supporters. Republican conservatives are quite willing to support a black candidate who enunciates their views effectively. They have done so in congressional races already. Had Colin Powell declared himself a candidate for the presidency and headed the Republican ticket he could have arguably beat Barack Obama to the title of the first black president.
People tend to forget that as a result of the American Civil War it was the Republican Party that first commanded the allegiance of American blacks. This picture did not change until the New Deal and the policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to promote blacks. Since Roosevelt, blacks have tended to vote for the Democratic Party and most elected representatives are Democrats but that can change. As someone who does not want the Jewish vote to be taken for granted by the Democratic Party one can express the same wishes for black Americans.
The Cain surge must be frustrating for Mitt Romney. It demonstrates that conservative Republicans are still not buying the inevitability argument or the electability argument and settling for Romney. They will still like to have a choice and a way of expressing that choice in the primaries. Voters who lean towards Perry have migrated to Cain. Romney has held steady throughout the race and this can be read as something in his favor or as a demerit. He is still not romping home.
Cain's breakouts can also be read as a commentary on the American political class. For the first time since Ross Perot ran in 1992 as an independent candidate we have someone whom voters are considering seriously without a government job on his resume. Barack Obama's meteoric rise to the presidency presumably taught voters a lesson not to elect a political neophyte. What Cain has going for him is that he is a straight talker and an anti-politician at a time that America has lost confidence in its political class.