Later today, Atlanta’s own Herman Cain is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy for president in a rally at Centennial Olympic Park. I’ll be headed out shortly to watch the event in person.
UPDATE: The rally went as planned, a nice event drawing a lot of nice people honestly concerned about their country. I’d estimate the turnout at around 1,200, which is certainly respectable for a political rally on a beautiful Saturday in May.
In his remarks, however, Cain estimated the turnout at 15,000 — I’m sorry, that isn’t even in the realm of possibility. In fact, I saw several people around me crane their necks, smile and shake their heads after Cain made that estimate. I guess it was a number thrown out to impress the TV audience, because nobody who was actually there in person would believe it.
Maybe it was the outdoor setting, or maybe Cain just got a bit overwhelmed by the occasion — after all, it’s not every day a man announces a run for president of the United States — but this wasn’t his best performance. Although he covered much the same ground as he did in his successful speech to the Georgia GOP a week ago, Cain’s remarks came across as disjointed. I doubt many people left that rally more enthusiastic for Cain than they were when they arrived, but then again, I’m not the target audience.
Earlier this week, I wrote a column arguing that for all the fervor of his followers, Cain just isn’t a legitimate candidate for president. The response from many conservatives was harsh, including a lot of charges that I was a racist for daring to say such a terrible thing. In a voice message left on my office phone, one former longtime GOP state representative angrily told me that the column was one of the most racist things she had ever read and that I ought to be fired immediately.
That theme also permeates the Twitter feed regarding Cain. In all those years in which conservatives complained about the antics of Al Sharpton, I simply didn’t understand that so much of it was driven by jealousy, and that if given the chance they would play the race card with a gusto that would make Sharpton look like Colin Powell. But that’s what has happened. Personally, I think the chance to fling the race card back into the faces of liberals is a pretty poor foundation for a presidential campaign, but many disagree.
Cain’s followers have also been trying to pressure Fox News, the arbiter of conservative legitimacy, to give Cain more coverage. But Charles Krauthammer and others on Fox seem to share my political analysis. As Krauthammer puts it, Cain’s candidacy is for “entertainment purposes only.” I wouldn’t go so far as that; I think the enthusiasm of many on the right for a man of Cain’s background tells us a lot about what’s going on in this country, and deserves attention. But he’s not a legitimate contender.
– Jay Bookman