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PRUDEN: For GOP candidates, a flavor turns flat and sour

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The trouble with flavors of the week is that, like chewing gum left overnight on the bedpost, they don't last very long. Rick Perry, who not so long ago was going to be the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, could tell you about that.

The governor of Texas is still the favorite whipping boy (whipping dude?) of the punditocracy, which may be a little thin consolation for him. The Washington Post and the New York Times discovered that the governor's father once leased a Texas hunting camp called "Niggerhead" and it was used for hunting parties (with real guns!) by the governor himself. The elder Perry painted over the offensive name on a big rock at the entrance to the camp, but not quickly enough to please Mr. Perry's "critics." Or the paint was a flat white instead of a high gloss white, or it was brushed not sprayed, or something. It's not quite clear what the Perry offense actually was. But the governor did something wrong, the Post and the New York Times are sure of that.

This week's flavor is Chris Christie of New Jersey, who may or may not be conservative enough to please some Republicans but who is certainly "stout" enough (the polite way of saying "fat" enough) to attract the needles of late-night comics and columnists and bloggers, many of whom keep their fat firmly between their ears. David Letterman speculates that a President Christie would more likely linger in the Oval Office with Sara Lee or Betty Crocker than with a White House intern. Mzz Crocker is getting a little too long in the tooth to catch the eye even of a middle-aged fat man from New Jersey who looks more like an exile from the cast of a mob movie than a president.

If Mr. Christie is the flavor that wouldn't last, next up may be Herman Cain, the onetime pizza man from Philadelphia. Dan Henninger, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, argues that Mr. Cain's business acumen makes him a plausible alternative to the original menu of Republican presidential candidates. Unlike Barack Obama, "Herman Cain has at least twice identified the causes of a large failing enterprise, designed goals, achieved them all and by all accounts inspired the people he was supposed to lead."

The failing enterprises were a group of Burger Kings in Philadelphia and the Godfather's Pizza chain, presumably rescued by something more than merely re-engineering the tomatoes, pickles, sausage and pepperoni. Once Mr. Cain won a couple of straw polls in the wake of a good performance at the latest debate by the Republican candidates, he qualified for Flavor of the Week.

Intangibles count for a lot, particularly in the early going of a new presidential campaign. Columnist Michael Barone thinks Mr. Cain has two intangibles worth as much as his business success and his scheme to simplify taxes. One is "likability" and the other is race. Race is the national obsession, and Mr. Cain can match President Obama, and then some. The pizza man is a two-fer, both black and conservative. "All this speculation may be getting ahead of the facts," Mr. Barone concedes. "Cain still has significant liabilities as a candidate and could make a disqualifying mistake at any time. But he's beginning to look like a contender."

Mr. Cain is already beginning to act like one, taking sharp jabs at two previous favorite flavors. Citing his positions on immigration, guns, civil marital unions and global warming, he says Chris Christie is too liberal to run as a Republican. "Most of the conservatives believe we should enforce our borders. They do not believe people should be here without documentation. They don't believe that global warming is a threat. ... And as you go right down the line, he's going to turn off a lot of conservatives with those positions." He took another shot at Rick Perry, as being slow with the paint brush on that rock at the hunting camp in West Texas. "There isn't a more vile, negative word than the n-word," he said.

Rick Perry, who has appointed many blacks to key posts in his administration, including the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, would no doubt agree. Who's saying the n-word is not a bad word?

Flavors of the week like Mr. Cain and Mr. Perry before him usually learn the hard way that speak-first, think-later is a route to ruin. Presidential politics is a hard game, dirty tricks abound and nobody gets a do-over.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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