“Let Reagan be Reagan” is a much and too often abused saying. When discussing politics on television, right-of-center pundits like to repeat it for the dual purposes of trumpeting their fondness for the legend of Ronald Reagan while simultaneously belittling all other political operatives (campaign managers, consultants, press secretaries, etc.). In the time of Reagan, “Let Reagan be Reagan” meant that all of the consultants, handlers and talking-points craftsmen were overwhelming and undermining Reagan’s natural charm and poise on the campaign trail. Today, Herman Cain is applying the phrase to not only himself — “Let Herman be Herman” — but to his campaign manager, the famously smoking hero of the recent Cain Web ad, Mark Block — “Let Mark be Mark.”
Abuse, I say!
When Cain and his staffers pilfer the saying from the Reagan camp, they are not communicating the same idea, nor could they be. Herman Cain is not Ronald Reagan, and it is blind, willful hubris to make the comparison. Reagan was a former governor of California, a winner of several multimillion-dollar campaigns, a proven fundraiser and a veteran of decades of stump speeches across America for General Electric. When he was untethered by talking points and over-consultancy, Reagan was still a disciplined candidate who knew whose hand to shake, how to work a room, massage a constituency — all while staying on message. And Reagan also knew that when he missed a cue, a well-informed staffer could be relied upon to redress his errors.
“Let Reagan be Reagan” was battle-tested, hard-earned wisdom first uttered by the very consultant-class that Cain now dismisses. “Let Herman be Herman” means, in effect, that campaign professionals and political experts should stand aside and let this charming novice run the show himself. Errors don’t need to be redressed by reliable staffers because errors, if they are made, are part of Cain’s charm and recondite magnetism. It is insanity, and a case-in-point for the arrogance that could destroy this promising upstart’s chances for the presidency.
A few weeks back, when Cain jumped on Perry for the contrived Washington Post “Niggerhead” scandal, Cain looked like a race-baiting dunce. His comments did himself a disservice and helped in validating a non-story. A consultant would have told him that a large part of his appeal was that he stood above race, and that he should stay away from commenting on the issue.
On Monday, Cain denied any knowledge of a settlement with an accuser in the harassment case. He had to retract and further explain his comments on Tuesday when it was revealed that he knew more than he originally suggested. A consultant would have told him to say nothing or, at least, keep his denunciations vague until more details could be learned.
I hope that we are not at the beginning of Herman Cain’s unraveling. I hope he rights his ship and wins the presidency because there’s more to like about him than just about every other Republican candidate. But the same could have been said for Sam Brownback in 2000 or Duncan Hunter in 2007.
A lot of good candidates don’t get the support they deserve. Herman Cain won’t be able to make that complaint. Right now, Cain is leading among the T-shirt and bumper-sticker conservatives. They (we) are the types that love the rogue, unconventional streak that thumbs its nose at the establishment. But that support won’t get him elected. To win the nomination and the presidency, Cain also needs to appeal to conservatives who don’t discuss politics in public, the ones who can’t stomach rogues. They want a Reagan: conservative, disciplined, electable … with a twinkle.
Herman Cain needs a paradigm shift. His charm offensive has gone as far as it can without stronger management. His campaign thus far has been brash, undisciplined and disjointed. He needs to hire new staff and listen to them. And if Herman Cain’s instincts tell him to keep doing what he’s doing, then his staff needs to stop Herman from being Herman.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.