Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain received some good advice from his chief of staff just prior to the first GOP debate last week: “Be Herman Cain, ” he instructed — “Let your natural passion and your natural ideas dictate what it is you say.”
It worked. Members of Frank Luntz’s focus group (on Fox News immediately following the debate) overwhelmingly said Cain won the debate. And a recent Zogby poll has him in second place for the GOP nomination (behind New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — who swears he isn’t running).
Cain said that his past experience running for the U.S. Senate taught him how to build a campaign team that is today capable of managing the influx of support he received after his successful performance during the South Carolina debate. But he noted building a campaign isn’t easy: “I could start a new pizza company quicker than I could start a new campaign team,” he joked.
On Wednesday, Cain and I discussed the debate, as well as his background as a successful businessman. Cain shared secrets of his success, including maxims like: “Go to the people closest to the problem,” and “What the leader has to do is be good listener.”
This prompted me to ask Cain about his response to the Afghanistan question. During the debate, Cain said he would rely on “the experts and their advice and their input.” (Of all Cain’s answers, this one was consistent with his business philosophy, and yet was also perhaps his most controversial answer.)
“I’m going to stick with this message” — Cain said when asked if he would tweak that message.
“There are some things that I am very comfortable taking a stand on,” he said, “but what I am not going to be pushed into doing is giving some preconceived idea of what I would do without having all the facts…there is information I simply do not have at my disposal.”
Cain added that sometimes politicians say things on the campaign trail — and later have to backtrack once they obtain all the information: “President Obama made the mistake of saying that we were going to be out of Afghanistan date certain by July 2011 — that’s not going to happen…he made a commitment he was going to close GITMO,” Cain said.