It was always a long shot to think a businessman could compete head on against career politicians for the highest office in the land. On Monday, Herman Cain told his staff and supporters he was proud of reaching fourth place in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Though his operation is winding down, Mr. Cain's fresh voice retains its lasting impact on the presidential field.
The former Godfather's Pizza CEO left his biggest mark on economic reform. "He was the first candidate to propose throwing out the whole tax code to focus the nation on growth," Mr. Cain's spokesman, J.D. Gordon, told The Washington Times. "The bold 9-9-9 plan resonated with the American people. We released it in early September, and three weeks later, he won the Florida straw poll. Then he reached the top of the national polls for over a month."
If not for his proposal, it is unclear if the other candidates would ever have dared to embrace daring plans such as the flat tax and elimination of the capital-gains tax. Conventional politicians often prefer to tinker around the edges of existing programs.
Having a black man top the polls in a Republican presidential campaign also helped dispel liberal myths. "Mr. Cain broke the old and tired stereotypes of racial and ethnic voting blocks," explained Mr. Gordon. "He said that just because a person is black doesn't mean they have to vote for Democrats." Mr. Cain believed that as a black conservative, he could get a third of the black vote in the general election. He will surely inspire others to see if that's true.
In politics, marketing matters as much as policy, and the business executive understood this. In one debate, he promised "to bring a sense of humor to the White House because America's too uptight." The audience roared with applause.
He made jokes that weren't politically correct, which sometimes got him in trouble. He had to spend time on the trail repeatedly explaining that he was kidding about using an electric fence to kill illegal aliens at the border. His viral video ad featuring campaign manager Mark Block smoking a cigarette caused CBS' Bob Schieffer to fume.
The Cain Train started to derail after the candidate faced anonymous accusations of sexual harassment. He denied the charges but admitted his former employer resolved the matter financially with the women. He tried to dismiss this as a smear campaign - a tactic that backfired when the number of women charging him with misdeeds hit five. It was just too much for a conservative base to overlook.
Mr. Cain's unexpected success is proof that GOP primary voters are desperate to hear a thoughtful, pro-growth conservative message. The remaining candidates would do well to follow what he has done right. To succeed, Republicans need to spell out an optimistic vision of American society built on the entrepreneurial spirit, not government handouts and stimulus.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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